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“Tighten Your Writing.”
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
- Read aloud.
Is there anything that soundsDoes anything sound convoluted? Can you simplify it?
- 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!