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Editing Tips: 7 Smart Ways to Tighten Your Writing

“Tighten Your Writing.”

book writing coach Lisa Tener
Your book writing coach Lisa Tener

Thanks to the participants in my Bring Your Book to Life® Program and writers who sent in samples for the writing workshop I’ll be facilitating at Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course this week, we have lots of inspiration for today’s blog post.

Many times, writers aren’t quite sure where to start when editing a manuscript. “Tighten your writing” is one of my favorite starting points.

Pretty much every manuscript or writing sample I edited this week needed some form of tightening.

So many words. So little time to read them. Such is the lament of the modern reader. We want to be sensitive to our readers’ needs and time.

In addition, tight writing is more enjoyable, clearer, cleaner. Extra words make it boring.

Not only will this post teach you ways to tighten your writing, there’s a contest at the end where everyone wins a prize!

Have You Been Advised to Tighten Your Writing?

Blessed is the tight writer.

First drafts often prove messy, full of extraneous words and convoluted ways of saying things.

And that’s as it should be. First time around, you want to get it out on paper. Fine tuning and polishing should not come into play.

If you focus on editing and critique while writing a first draft, you can actually interfere with the flow. When it’s time to polish, however, tight writing can be one of your most crucial skills.

How do you develop this ability?

Same way you get to Carnegie Hall.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Of course, you’ll need a few tried and true tips.

7 Smart Ways to Tighten Your Writing

Read Aloud for the first 2

  1. Read aloud. Is there anything that sounds Does anything sound convoluted? Can you simplify it?
  2. Read aloud again. When anything sounds wordy or long, highlight it. Then go back and see if there is a briefer way to say the same thing.

Next, Cut the Obvious

3. Here are some words and phrases that are usually extraneous and can easily be cut 90% of the time they show up in a first draft: started to, began to, so, very, really, that, Well (at the beginning of a sentence). Can you think of others?

4. In dialogue, dump the “he said; she said” when it’s obvious who’s talking. Boring. Repetitious. Unnecessary. Just give us the dialogue, unless it’s unclear or readers need a reminder because it’s been a while. Better yet, give us an action by the speaker and you don’t have to write, “he said.” Plus, an action will break up the dialogue and paint more of a visual picture.

5. Practice on LinkedIn connection requests. Seriously? Yes. You have 300 characters to let a prospective connection know why you want to connect. If you know each other that’s easy, but if you don’t, and have a specific reason to want to connect, you may need to wordsmith to get it down to 300 characters. Here’s my final note to acquisitions editors for business textbooks at US publishing houses:

6. Graduate to Twitter: Got it down to 300 characters? Now try 140. Be patient. It usually takes more time to distill your message than it did to write a first draft.

7. Ask, “Does the reader need to know this? Does it add value by making the writing come to life, filling in important details, or adding clarity? Or was is it unnecessary? Does it fit and flow?” In a first draft, we may put in details or actions that don’t really add much value. When editing, use a more critical eye. Read the page with and without a particular detail, sentence or paragraph in question. Which works best?

BONUS! Win a Prize (and Everyone Wins)

Have any tightening tips? Share yours below.

BONUS: Notice any places I can tighten up this post? Comment with your suggestion. The top 3 suggestions win a book. Others will win a beautiful bookmark painted by my lovely niece. Yes, everyone wins a prize today!

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Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Louann Pope says

    Here’s my suggestion for tightening up this article:
    Original: Just give us the dialogue, unless it’s unclear or readers need a reminder because it’s been a while.
    Revised: Just give us the dialogue, unless it’s unclear or readers need a reminder.
    “Because it’s been a while” is unnecessary.

    Louann Pope
    Freelance Copyeditor
    [email protected]
    http://louannpope.com

  2. Kristi says

    1. Read Aloud. “Is there anything that sounds convoluted?” could be changed to “Does anything sound convoluted?”

  3. Jerry Gill says

    It’s a little intimidating to edit and editor. Here are 3 ideas.

    Original:
    When anything sounds wordy or long, highlight it.
    Then go back and see if there is a briefer way
    to say the same thing.

    If something sounds wordy or long find a briefer
    way to say it

    Original:
    Seriously? Yes.

    leave off

    Original:
    Graduate to Twitter: Got it down to 300
    characters? Now try 140. Be patient. It
    usually takes more time to distill your
    message than it did to write a first draft.

    Graduate to Twitter: Try 140. Be patient.
    Distillation often takes longer than the first
    draft.

  4. Karen Gay says

    Beware of redundancy, unnecessary repetition … restating the obvious… superfalous statements … restating or stating the obvious….need I say more…oops my post is a prime example! ?

  5. Desiree Smith says

    My tips know what words phrases that you overuse and do an RIP death to word or phrase sheet. I overuse shrugged. Everybody shrugs in my work. A lot of confused and confusing characters what I do is make a list of other ways to show a shrug or other ways a character can be confused or convey “I dunno.”

  6. Patty says

    I have a need to do this in almost every project. Nice reminder! Although I disagree on one point. Limiting text just for the sake of brevity is not always warranted. Some little phrases or added words can add personality, character, and clarity. It’s knowing how to cut just enough that’s key.

    Suggested edit:
    5. Practice on LinkedIn connection requests. Seriously? Yes. You have 300 characters to let a prospective connection know why you want to connect. If you know eachother that’s easy, but if you don’t, you may need to wordsmith to get it down to 300 characters.

    If you don’t already “have a specific reason to want to connect,” why would you be making a connection request in the first place?

  7. Alex E. Carey says

    Thanks for the practice exercise. Here are my ideas.

    1. “Thanks to the participants in my Bring Your Book to Life® Program and writers who sent in samples for the writing workshop I’ll be facilitating at Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course this week, we have lots of inspiration for today’s blog post.”

    My suggestion –
    This should be separated into two sentences. “… I’ll be facilitating at Harvard Medical School’s CME publishing course this week. We have lots of inspiration for today’s blog post.”

    2. “Many times, writers aren’t quite sure where to start when editing a manuscript. “Tighten your writing” is one of my favorite starting points.”

    My suggestion –
    Writers are often unsure where to start…
    It tightens a little and turns the negative to a positive.

    3. “Pretty much every manuscript or writing sample I edited this week needed some form of tightening.”

    Personal suggestion
    I had a tendency to overuse “pretty much”, so I now include that in with the words really, very, started to, etc.

    4. “When it’s time to polish, however, tight writing can be one of your most crucial skills.”

    Personal suggestion
    I also watch my own use of the word most. I would try “…tight writing can be a crucial skill.”
    or even better “…tight writing is a crucial skill.”

    5. “Read aloud again. When anything sounds wordy or long, highlight it. Then go back and see if there is a briefer way to say the same thing.”

    My suggestion
    “Read aloud again. Highlight anything that sounds wordy or long. Go back to see…”

    6. “Here are some words and phrases that are usually extraneous and can easily be cut 90% of the time they show up in a first draft: started to, began to, so, very, really, that, Well (at the beginning of a sentence). Can you think of others?

    Personal suggestion
    I added usually to my list of extraneous words, along with “I think, going to, then”
    ‘These words and phrases tend to be extraneous and can be cut 90% of the time…”

  8. Barbara McNichol says

    I’m glad to see you included “start to” as an extraneous word. To that I would add “decide to” and “I think, I feel, I believe.” You’re the author; of course it’s what you think, feel, or believe. Beware of using “try to” unless it’s critical to the meaning.

    Nicely done article with great ideas. Thanks.

  9. Yvonne says

    I actually have a question and a comment. First, I am legally blind and use a screen reader, I know you say not to edit as you go, but many times it is very hard for me not to do this because my screen reader is reading what I type. Do you have any suggestions? Or do you think this is okay? I feel like if I don’t go back and fix the big error I will keep thinking about it and then be preoccupied.
    My comment is I never thought of the LinkedIn practice, maybe that will help me with Twitter. Also, I have found myself going back and taking out all my “so’s” and “Because’s” I noticed I started many sentences with those words and when I took them out it read better. Thanks for the tips!

    • Lisa Tener says

      Yvonne, It’s wonderful you put these tips into practice right away.

      I am mixed on advice for your situation. Try letting go of editing to see what happens. Allow yourself to edit later. View it as an experiment and truly try to let go perhaps using some phrase to give yourself permission.

      If it doesn’t work you can revert to editing as you write.

  10. Amber Polo says

    Great practice!

    Here are some words and phrases that are usually extraneous and can easily be cut 90% of the time they show up in a first draft:

    Some words and phrases are extraneous and can be cut 90% of the time in a first draft:

  11. Renee Garrick says

    Great tips . . . and thanks for the opportunity to help tighten your post!

    Original: Notice any places I can tighten up this post? Comment with your suggestion.
    Edited: Notice any places I can tighten up this post? Comment below.

  12. Dianne says

    Here’s my tightening suggestions:

    BEFORE: It usually takes more time to distill your message than it did to write a first draft.
    AFTER: It takes more time to distill a first draft.

    BEFORE: Does it add value by making the writing come to life, filling in important details, or adding clarity? Or was is it unnecessary? Does it fit and flow?” In a first draft, we may put in details or actions that don’t really add much value.

    AFTER: Does it add value or clarity? Is it unnecessary? Does it fit and flow?” In a first draft, we may put in details or actions that don’t add value.

  13. Lisa Tener says

    Thank you to everyone who made suggestions for tightening. What a fun exercise and great ideas. It just goes to show how we can find new areas for improvement every round of editing, and that different readers will notice different things.
    Now for your gifts. We need your mailing addresses.
    Geri will be reaching out next week for your address, but you don’t have to wait!
    Send me your email address through this form and I’ll send your handmade bookmark!
    https://www.lisatener.com/contact/
    Lisa

  14. Tyrean A Martinson says

    Great tips and bravo for your bravery to ask for edits!
    Here are a few areas to tighten:
    2. Read aloud again. When anything sounds wordy or long, highlight it. Then go back and see if there is a briefer way to say the same thing.
    Take out the phrase “or long.” Take out the word “Then.”
    4. In dialogue, dump the “he said; she said” when it’s obvious who’s talking. Boring. Repetitious. Unnecessary. Just give us the dialogue, unless it’s unclear or readers need a reminder
    I suggest taking out one or two of the three words: Boring. Repeitious. Unnecessary.
    I also think that “when it’s obvious who’s talking” in the first sentence is unnecessarily repeated in the second sentence with “unless it’s unclear or readers need a reminder.”
    I’m sure that I would have more words requiring editing in any of my work.

    Happy Writing!

  15. essay writer says

    Great editing tips! I really hope to continue this article. Your advice has definitely helped a large number of people make their blogs much more interesting. I hope that you will continue to share this type of content!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Tight writing means that you can use all the exclamation points you wish on your draft. But with revision, cull those critters out of the herd. Some writing pros insist you only get one exclamation point in your whole writing life. I’m not that strict but I do believe that overusing these marks paints writers as amateurs. And a gaggle of !!! and ??? creates visual clutter for readers. […]

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