Thursday, April 19, 2012

Is Your Writing Tight?

      

The most valuable of all talents 

is that of never using 

two words when one will do. 

Thomas Jefferson



This is one of my favorite writing quotes. I think of it as the bumper sticker for word economy. 

If, as Jefferson suggests, we examine our writing, looking for places where one word will replace two, can we sharpen our prose?

I think so, and I've long believed that crisp writing makes a great statement. Tight writing is also a must to meet word counts. Weeding out unnecessary words and phrases helps communicate without clutter and fluff.

Here are a few ways I eliminate the dreaded "clutter and fluff":


1) Ditch excess modifiers and hedging words. Words like very, really, quite, fairly, kind of, and truly don't add as much "oomph" as we think. When removed, the result is cleaner, and nothing is compromised. 

2) Remove empty phrases. Trim out phrases like there seems to be, in order to, needless to say, on account of, and what I mean is for a clear, crisp statement. 

3) Don't be redundant. When phrases like free gift, past history, honest truth, and end result are pared down to gift, history, truth, and result we've heeded Mr. Jefferson's advice, haven't we?

Does Jefferson's quote strike any chords with you? What methods do you employ to tighten your writing? 

Happy weekend,
 Karen

Photo credit: Stock Exchange

40 comments :

  1. Yes! these are the first writing rules I learned about "cutting" the unnecessary.

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  2. I don't think I've heard that quote, but it's great! I do believe in tight writing, but sometimes a little extra is okay if in dialogue, only to capture characterization.
    Otherwise, it's cut, cut, cut! lol

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  3. Linda,
    They are timeless, aren't they? At first it was hard to ditch them, but no more! :)

    Jessica,
    I agree, there are instances where they work, like you said, in dialogue, etc. Just knowing when and where, I'm thinking, is the key!

    Blessings,
    Karen

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  4. Another method: Use the most concise verbs and simplest verb tenses. It's one clear difference I usually see between beginning efforts and published books.

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  5. Great tips as always, amigo. In my writing (picture books and MG novels) action verbs are so very important.

    Was is a word I must dearly love, because in revisions I must always go in and rework all the was sentences. *sigh*

    Tight writing. That is the main ingredient in the stew we are cookin'. Love this and I am printing it out for future use. (((hugs))) amigo.

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  6. I'm always on the lookout for passive writing--revising it then to active tightens things up a lot :-) Helpful post here, thanks!

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  7. Great advice, Karen! Looking forward to checking out your blog more often.

    ~Debbie

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  8. Laurel,
    Thanks so much for this great tip! I agree, this is so important. :)

    Robyn,
    Thank you right back, amigo! I hear you, revisions can be a challenge, but in the end, they make our writing shine. But you know that... :P

    Kenda,
    I know, passive can slow things down, that's for sure. Sometimes I get so twisted around with active/passive that I am not sure if I am coming or going. In the end, it all gets figured out. :)

    Debbie,
    Thanks so much for the follow and your kind words! Enjoyed my stop at your blog. Looking forward to stopping by there too. :)

    Blessings,
    Karen

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  9. Hi Karen .. Write tight .. what a great phrase .. I'm sure I'm long-winded, but for now - that will have to do .. though I try and hone each post down. At least 22 of the 26 will be under 500 words!!

    And I love reading about things I should be trying to 'lose' ..

    Cheers and you too have a happy weekend .. Hilary

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  10. Great advice! I've using my "find" feature to look for some of these words, like "very" and "really" so I can chop them out. I tend to go overboard in describing emotions, so I definitely will keep Write Tight in mind. Thanks, Karen!

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  11. What a great quote! I'm really conscientious to write tight in my manuscripts. In my blog comments? Not so much. ;)

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  12. I should put this on a post-it (note) and stick it on my computer.

    So true!!!

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  13. Thanks for the reminder, Karen! Have to admit, I sometimes stray from that.

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  14. Hilary,
    You know, you might think that you are long winded, but I wonder if you examined your posts and such that maybe you aren't as much as you think. You have a lot of description and character, and perhaps not as much empty stuff. In any case, I enjoy your posts! :)

    Susanne,
    Thanks so much! I am always looking for ways to sharpen and trim. Using the "find" feature is good advice. I like to use it especially when I don't have my daughter around to give me input on something. :)

    Sarah,
    Ha - blog comments - me too! And emails, and FB posts...I think we can let ourselves have a little freedom then, don't you think? :)

    Cheryl,
    It really is, isn't it? The post it note idea is a good one!

    Linda,
    You are so welcome! I stray from it too! :)

    Happy weekend,
    Karen

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  15. Yes because I often have to go back and kill some adverbs and adjectives.

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  16. I am guilty of all of the above. At least in rough draft form. Then I have to go back and do some adj/adv killing like Alex.

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  17. Great tips, especially 'don't be redundant.' Thanks Karen. I'll look out for these little gremlin words.

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  18. Karen:
    You wrote an excellent post.The quote speaks to me.

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  19. Hi Karen -

    Thanks for the reminder.

    When I entered the Genesis Contest, my synopsis went from three pages to one. I was surprised at how much better it read after cutting out all but the essentials.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  20. Alex,
    Me too! It's a tricky balance, isn't it?

    Theresa,
    Yup, me too. Sometimes I think my draft is better than it is in that respect. At least we can fix them!

    Dorothy,
    Ah, now there's a good term for them! Indeed, they can be a nuisance. :)

    Cecelia,
    Thanks so much! This is such a good quote - good words to write by! :)

    Susan,
    You are welcome. Seems there's always something to look out for. Like contractions, right? lol

    Happy weekend,
    Karen

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  21. Well dang, if I follow those rules how will I talk? :) And I just watched a PBS special on Jefferson, amazing man.
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

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  22. Thanks for reiterating what my dictatorial editor (my wife) has tried to get across to me for some time now. Great advice.

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  23. As usual i find it very informative and educative. Thanks for sharing. Having read this post i believe i am one step ahead towards my dream of becoming a good writer. It is always worth visiting your blog.

    happy weekends...

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  24. Ouch. Now you've got me worried, Karen. I'll try to keep this in mind, though, as I'm writing.

    You've written on this before. I'm guessing as an instructor, you can see the fluff from a mile out, just like my internal editor screams over words not spelled correctly, grammar mistakes, etc.

    Thanks for this reminder. I'm sure I need it.

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  25. Jules,
    Hey girl, good to see you! I think talking is exempt, at least everyday stuff anyway. I'll write you a note, okay? :)

    Scott,
    Thanks a bunch! Have to agree with Laura on this one, she's right! But you know, it's an ongoing process. We're always polishing and improving, no matter how long we've been writing.

    Dorjay,
    Thank you for your kind words. Glad these tips will be helpful. Keep writing!

    Happy weekend,
    Karen

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  26. Rhonda,
    Well, maybe not a mile out, but I do spot things more quickly than I used to. But only because I'm often immersed in it. I'll let you in on a little secret though, I'm always working on this in my writing!
    Blessings,
    Karen

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  27. Karen, you've done a very good job of showing what needs to be done to make our writing very smooth and clear and concise, and I just want to say that I'm doubly impressed by just how astute you really are when it comes to explaining how to make writing, our writing tight. Nice job!

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  28. This seems to be really, really good advice. Yes, it does make a difference to cut these out. BUT don't do it to the extent that you make your writing too dry. Every word should be there for a reason, even the ones that seem to be hedging, etc.

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  29. Joylene,
    Thank you for your encouraging words! They mean a lot!

    Annie,
    Yes, this is true. I think we can take all the personality out of our writing if we are not careful. It's a tricky balance, isn't it?

    Happy weekend,
    Karen

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  30. Yes! I need to tighten some areas, and describe in more detail in other areas. Thanks Karen!

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  31. I make those mistakes all the time. It's good to have those reminders.

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  32. Tyrean,
    Me too. Always working to refine. There's a good balance to be had, and practice helps me a lot! :)

    Clarissa,
    I do too. I am constantly reminding myself!

    Blessings,
    Karen

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  33. I could agree with the quote or with your tips more! As a former journalist, I always try to write as tightly as possible.

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  34. Thanks for the follow at A Few Words, which is a title that relates well to this post. Your blog is among the earliest ones I followed.

    I'm bad about not adhering to Jefferson's advice, especially in my blog writing.



    Lee
    A Few Words
    An A to Z Co-host blog
    My Main blog is Tossing It Out

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  35. It took me a while but I'm better about this now.

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  36. Talli,
    Glad this strikes a chord with you! Tight writing is important. :)

    Lee,
    You are welcome to the follow. Looking forward to reading your posts there.

    Diane,
    I think it's a work in progress kind of thing, you know? I'm always refining something!

    Blessings,
    Karen

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  37. I used to be terribly guilty of this.

    ...er...I mean...

    I'm guilty of this.

    hahaha. See there I go. Adding in the extras when I should be simplifying.

    Thanks for the post. Glad I'm not the only one who struggles in this area.

    AtoZer!
    prose-spective.blogspot.com

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  38. I've realised this but I still have to make my writing tight. I tend to be verbose and redundant most of the time. I think being aware is one step ahead...I'm trying.

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  39. Rena,
    Nice to meet you! Thanks for the follow! No, you are not alone. I struggle with the right balance when I write. :) Will hop over and check out your blog asap!

    Joy,
    Yes, awareness is good! And I think we are always practicing this element, you know? We're works in progress. :)

    Rahul,
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    Blessings,
    Karen

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Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate your input. Have a blessed day!