I'm going to spend several days this week going over tips for doing your own preliminary editing. Not that I'm at the editing stage of the new book yet -- far from it --but maybe if I think about the rules now, I won't have so much work to do in October.
"One of the best things you can do to improve your writing is to just read through all of it and get rid of all the little words that you really don't need."
Now there's a fine, wordy sentence for you. What does it say? How about: "Improve your writing by removing unnecessary words."
Yes, you're right. That's going to reduce your word count, which is why I don't worry too much about wordiness while I'm doing NaNoWriMo exercises. But while reducing your word count, it's also reducing your reader's irritation, and that's a good thing.
Here's a list of little words you don't need:
SO (as in "I was so glad to see him.") There's an exception here: "so" is acceptable only when it is followed by a "that" -- as in "She was SO short THAT she only saw people from the waist down."
VERY (as in "I was very, very tired.")
THAT (as in ("I thought that I should leave." )
ALTHOUGH ("Although, I'm not sure I should."")
YET ("She hasn't arrived yet.")
RATHER ("It seemed rather rude.")
JUST ("I was just waiting for an excuse to leave.")
NEARLY ("I was nearly exhausted.")
EVEN ("Even the other guests were bored.")
SORT OF ("The milk was sort of soured.")
ALMOST ("The roast beef was almost burned.")
IN SPITE OF ("I was irritated in spite of myself.")
PERHAPS ("I could, perhaps, take a nap.")
QUITE ("I was quite tempted to do it.")
FOR A MOMENT ("I hesitated for a moment.")
THEN ("Then I walked out.")
SUDDENLY ("Suddenly I stopped.")
I copied the list from another blogger several years ago, and I've used it ever since. Once your manuscript is complete, go to the "find and replace" function in your word processor, and scan the whole manuscript for each word. That means you'll go through the whole manuscript about 18 times, but you'll be surprised at how many other errors you'll spot along the way.
Every time you find one of the words on the list, ask yourself if the meaning of the sentence changes when you take the word out. If it doesn't, drop it. Now granted, the sentences above sound a bit choppy once the "little words" are gone, but you can always add a more inventive phrase when you need to.
One final caveat: Don't just do a blind "find and remove." You have to look at each instance and make a conscious decision. The word "that," for example, is necessary in many places. (This one is spoiled; THAT one is not.)
And sometimes these words make an important point about your character. If she always states her opinion by prefacing it with "perhaps," we realize she is unsure of herself. In her conversation, leave it in. In your narrative, take it out.