First drafts always have too many words. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming to start the editing process and know what to weed out. There will be a regular post soon about what to cut when you're editing that expands on this one. I'll also talk later about word economy and repetition and the next Writing 101 post will be on buzzwords. Stay tuned.
But today, we're talking about the word "that."
Why? Because you hardly need it.
What? You say? How can this be? "That" is a stable of the English language! It appears all the time! Surely we need it!
Well, yes, you need it. But not as often as you think. Let's cut straight to the examples and look at the following sentences.
1. "She didn't know that she was being followed."
2. "I love the cake that he made!" or "This is the cake that he made."
3. "This is the best book that I have read!"
4. "Here's the mail that I left earlier."
5. "I was sure that I was right."
All those sound correct, and they are correct. But let's look at them again, this time without "that."
1. "She didn't know she was being followed."
2. "I love the cake he made!" or "This is the cake he made."
3. "This is the best book I have read!"
4. "Here's the mail I left earlier."
5. "I was sure I was right."
All these still make perfect sense, and they're a word shorter. "That" is a filler word, much like "um" and "like." It gets put in because it "feels right." But unless the sentence doesn't make sense without it, cut it.
Find your favorite book and start skimming for the word "that." How often does it appear? Is it necessary.
Open your current project and do a search for "that." Delete as many as you can. I bet it's at least half of them.