Thursday, November 4, 2010

Practicing Tight Writing

Keep it Sharp!

Concise writing sounds good in theory. But how do we keep things tight and still communicate well? Word counts mean sharp, effective writing. Here's what Strunk and White have to say in The Elements of Style:

 “Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” 

Love that! Are there unnecessary parts in your writing? I've tossed many words over the years, and continue to refine each time I write.

Someone else weighed in on the topic:

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”  Thomas Jefferson

Editors would love Mr. Jefferson. Excellent point, and wise words to remember, don't you think?                                              

How do we tighten our writing? Develop a keen eye for unnecessary words and phrases. And practice, practice, practice!

Here Goes...

A telegram is an excellent way to practice concise writing.

Write a telegram, limited to 15 words or less.  Small and unnecessary words are left out. The word STOP is used as the punctuation between sentences. Don't count STOP in the 15 words. 

Here is an example:

Grandma joined circus STOP  Mom upset STOP Dad angry STOP Circus your town Saturday STOP Bring Grandma home STOP Karen

So, are you up to the challenge? Share your telegram with us! What techniques do you use to keep your writing tight?

Happy weekend,

Text copyright Karen Lange 2010. No text may be used without prior permission.
Image credit - Ambrozio


  1. Bear stole cooler STOP Skunks in camper STOP Home tomorrow 9AM STOP Bus station STOP Jean

    Great post, Karen. To tighten my writing, I search for passive-voice words (was, were, that) and rewrite those passages in active voice. I also avoid overuse of adverbs and gerunds.


  2. Great post STOP I will ramble STOP so I'll keep this short STOP

    I am overwriter and the only thing I can do to tighten my words is revise and revise and revise. I actually have "Omit needless words" written on a sticky note on my computer, but so far it hasn't helped. :)

  3. Great tip to write comments on blogs STOP Always learning something useful here STOP Thanks so much STOP

    Take care. Big hug and kisses. xxx

  4. Wonderful telegrams, ladies! :)

    Now there's a camping experience I wouldn't want to repeat! Good advice for keeping things tight, thanks.

    I agree, revision is so important. Judging on the small number of edits necessary on your book, you must be pretty good at that part!

    Yes, this is true. Perhaps a telegram mentality would help for blog comments. Right to the point, but encouraging too! :)

    Blessings to each of you,

  5. Ate too much cheese cake stop can't fit in gown stop won't be attending ball stop save my Emmy stop I'll pick it up at your place stop.

    Great post, Karen. To write concise prose I edit stop then edit stop then edit some more stop. LOL.

  6. My editor pointed out I like to write long sentences. This may be okay for the character development sections. Not so much for the action scenes.

    Need coffee STOP WHat? We're out STOP Off to Starbucks STOP.

  7. Oh my, something I definitely need to work on STOP

    Great topic, Karen! I was getting excited about the progress I was making on my WIP, but I know I need to edit, edit, edit...

    Have a beautiful weekend! :)

  8. Fell STOP Broke tooth STOP Emergency dentist appointment STOP No dinner tonight STOP

    Well, not exactly true. Today's dentist appointment for a new crown was scheduled, but I may not fix dinner :-)

    Fun exercise, and good point. In later drafts, I use the search and find feature to weed out overused words, and that seems to help tighten things up for me.

  9. Hi Karen .. how right you are!

    Google Reader fullish stop What Now? stop Read stop Skip stop Comment on those I love stop How about you? stop

    Perfect stop!! Cheers Hilary

  10. Hi Karen -

    Great post.

    Different problem Stop Devotional writer Stop Need to expand word count Stop

    Susan :)

  11. When I start my revisions, I look first for adverbs and adjectives and try to get rid of them, rewriting sentences so none of the meaning is lost.

    Karen, thanks for stopping by my blog today for Stephen Tremp's tour. Much appreciated.

  12. Twitter's probably a good training tool as well.

  13. Joylene,
    Love that! Make sure you put a picture of that Emmy on your blog, okay. Thanks for your kind words. :)

    Yes, there is a place for long and short sentences, the trick for me is to knowing when and where. Starbucks helps make a great telegram!

    Me too! About the time I think I've got it down, I see things things that need work, but as you say, editing is a given. Thanks:)

    Hope all went well with your tooth. Not having to cook dinner sounds okay by me! That search and find idea is a good one - hadn't thought of that, thanks!

    Love the telegram. There are so many uses, aren't there? Yes, and me too! :)

    Ah yes, now's here's a situation I didn't think about. We do have to fluff now and again, don't we?

    It was a pleasure to stop by the blog for the interview. I enjoyed it. Thanks for becoming a follower! :)

    Now there's another good point! Didn't think of that. Twitter has more uses than I thought.

    Blessings all,

  14. You guys are too much! I love all the telegrams today! Excellent point made, Karen!

  15. Early out day Stop Parent-teacher conferences Stop Exhausted Stop Back to teaching in morning Stop Ugh Stop

    Awesome post, Karen! :-)

  16. Hi Karen STOP Thought-provoking post STOP Love the exercise STOP Thanks!

  17. Writing tight was a skill. developed over time. Now I can pick out a wordy sentence in my work. usually. :)

  18. Heather,
    I know, they're great, aren't they? Love it! :)

    Shannon O.
    Love the telegram! Well, the weekend is nearly here, so that's a good thing:)

    Great telegram! Thanks so much:)

    I agree! Skills develop as we go. A good thing, I'm thinking!

    Happy weekend,

  19. Pantry pirates STOP No more cookies STOP Two is enough STOP Need large Doberman STOP Security lax STOP Lord help STOP

    That's mine. Clearly applies. Said pirates taking over. What's small mom to do?

  20. Great post Karen!!! Hhmmm, I really desire to say much using little words.... haha, I end up writing books that are really thin!

  21. I think TJ nailed it. I try hard to choose the best way to say something. For me, I have to make sure I don't try to explain too much to the reader by showing them something and then explaining it too. I'm notorious for that.

  22. Great post! STOP
    That's all STOP
    See? I'm pithy already LOL

  23. Love this post!
    Hungry STOP Must make dinner STOP Don't burn it STOP

  24. This reminds me of twitter! I'll tell you, I don't practice an economy of words when I write the first draft, but boy do I practice the telegraph method when I edit!

  25. Rhonda,
    Great telegram! Sorry to hear about the pirates, though. Perhaps the cookie police might be able to help? :P

    Thank you! Yes, but I bet your 'thin' books have plenty to say! :)

    He did! I know, I do the same thing. We're getting there. Especially you, apparently, with a book deal!

    Yes, you are! We should all take lessons from you:)

    Thank you! Hope dinner ended up being okay! :)

    Yes, I think you are right! Yeah, editing is where it hits hard. But this is a good thing:)

    Happy weekend,

  26. Karen, what an excellent post. I tend to use TONS and TONS of words stuffing my sentences full. This will STOP help me to STOP doing STOP that. Thanks girlfriend. Happy weekend. :)

  27. Karen:
    Play practice STOP Most cast absent STOP Met in narthax STOP lines not learned Stop Please Listen,dear Lord STOP

  28. Robyn,
    Thank you:) Word stuffing is common among us!

    Perhaps by the next meeting attendance will increase and lines will be memorized!

    Thanks and blessings,

  29. Too, too funny about Grandma! Did you think of that one, Karen?

    Disappiontments show us where our heart is hiding its treasures STOP Refocus on Jesus for reappointment STOP

  30. Great excercise Karen. A prof told me I had a unique problem of not using enough words! All a fine balance indeed.

  31. Great post STOP Went to Writing Workshop Today STOP Learned tightening techniques from writing coach Jack Hart STOP

  32. Jeanette,
    Yes, the Grandma one was mine.:) Hopefully it doesn't happen in real life! Great telegram!

    Thanks! Wow, most have the opposite! Ah yes, a fine balance, that's for sure!

    Hooray for writing workshops! You put it to good use:)


  33. Thanks for always visiting my blog, Karen, and commenting, too. You are a faithful Follower and I love having you stop by. Susan

  34. You know, this was SUCH a fabulous post, I am just sitting here shaking my head. When I saw the title and then the postcard picture, I got the point.
    Talk about tight.

    Wonderful, wonderful blogging, girl.

  35. Susan,
    Good to see you! You are welcome; it's a pleasure to stop by your blog:)

    See, I knew I loved you! Thanks so much; you made my day :)


  36. hey, this is quite tough but it's fun and it's helpful. well, let me try.

    stuck here STOP to figure out STOP what should i write STOP hard STOP hope i got it STOP madeline

  37. Madeline,
    Thanks for giving this a shot! Nicely done and with humor besides. Good to meet you; glad you came by!

  38. Weighing in with Twitter in under 140 characters.


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