This morning's e-mail brought a message from a company that sells instruction in both copywriting and photography. The letter was selling a class and emphasizing the fact that you don't have to be young to learn new things and be successful.
It gave several examples, including one about a gentleman who competes in archery.
His story included a sentence which was a "stop sign" for me. I went back and re-read it, then I puzzled over it. And now I'm writing about it. I never did get around to reading the rest of their message.
Here's the sentence:
"Johnson is 57, and usually about 30 years older than most of his competitors."
For me, the sentence would have worked had they left out "usually." It also would have worked if they'd left out "most of." It needed one or the other, but when it included both, my first thought was to wonder if his age changed from day to day.
Would this have been a stop sign for you?
Although not quite the same thing, this sentence reminds me of answering machine messages (and emails) that say something along the lines of "Mr. Jones is not currently available at this time." In this case the meaning is clear, but the sentence is lumpy and awkward. It looks like the speaker or writer simply wasn't thinking. It's also one of those sentences that makes me stop and look twice - destroying the flow of the message.
The bottom line: Sometimes removing a word here and there makes your work flow more smoothly and clarifies your meaning. Sometimes adding an unnecessary word confuses the issue and creates a stop sign.
So after you write, set your work aside for a bit, then read it with the eye of a critic. It's always best if you can have someone else proofread for you, but some of us don't have that luxury, so we have to be extra careful.