[This is part of an ongoing ChurchMag series, A Dutch-Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Better Writer.]
‘Less is more’ is a credo that’s true for many things, including writing. If you’re writing fiction, it’s one thing to be verbose. But if you’re writing non-fiction and especially if you’re blogging, it pays to be able to state your point in as little words as possible.
There are three reasons why tightening your writing is essential:
1. Readers Are Impatient
Forgive me for quoting an often-used saying by fiction writer Elmore Leonard who said that the writer has to cut the stuff that readers skip anyway. In fiction, that often refers to long descriptions or lengthy internal musings. In non-fiction, readers will get restless if you need three paragraphs to get your message across where one would have been fine. You can get away with it if you’re entertaining (Jon Acuff comes to mind here), if it’s a certain kind of post (encouragement for instance) or if your writing is inspiring in itself, but most of the times shorter is better.
Avoid people clicking away from your posts because you don’t get to the point soon enough. Some may not even start reading your article at all if they see it’s over 700 words to begin with!
With tightening often comes more clarity. If you force yourself to cut the fluff, the result will be a highly focused piece. If brevity is the goal, you’ll keep circling back to the question: ‘What do I really want to say?’
The last reason is simple: tight writing is better writing. You will improve the quality of your work if you consistently strive to cut to the core.
I’ve been seen this in my own articles over the fifteen years or so that I’m writing. When I started working for a magazine, the articles I had to write had strict word counts. They had to be 500 words exactly for instance, or 750. I’d often start with much more and was forced to keep cutting until I hit the magic mark. By doing that, I learned to keep it shorter to start with.
How to Tighten Your Writing
The key question then is how you do this. What is the best way to cut back on your word count? Here are six tricks you can use and most of these we’ll discuss in upcoming posts:
- Cut unnecessary details. Is every detail you provide necessary to follow the story or get the point? If not, yank them from you article.
- Delete words you don’t need. A notorious one is ‘very’ for instance. “I was very happy” can be tightened to “I was happy” or if you want to express the more than happy part: “I was elated.” In a next post we’ll look at three words you can often delete without changing the meaning of the sentence.
- Go from passive to active voice (‘I read this book’ instead of ‘this book is being read by me’). This will also make your writing more powerful by the way.
- Look at two or more sentences that state the same thing, only in different words. If you look a few paragraphs up, you’ll find these two sentences: “When I started working for a magazine, the articles I had to write had strict word counts. They had to be 500 words exactly or instance, or 750.” Technically, the second sentence is a more detailed version of the first, but you don’t really need it to get the point. A tighter rewrite could be: “When I started working for a magazine, the articles I had strict word counts, 500 words exactly for instance.”
- Use strong verbs instead of weaker ones with added adverbs. “He smacked him” instead of “He hit him hard” for instance. The first is not only shorter, but also more powerful. Another example: “I looked at his proposal intensely” can be rewritten to “I studied his proposal.” Short, sweet and strong!
- Use expressions and metaphors. I could have said ‘the things you can easily do that will have immediate impact’ in the sentence below, but instead I opted for the much shorter ‘quick win’. Another example: ‘He was a tall, very muscular man with broad shoulders and an impressive physique’ could be tightened to ‘He was built like a linebacker’. One metaphor can cut many words!
There are more ways to tighten your writing, but these are the ‘quick wins’.
Do you tend to be verbose or is keeping it short not an issue for you?
(by the way: it is for me!)