A Diet Program—for Your Writing!
Have you ever struggled to read writing that felt heavy for no reason? Or thought something you wrote sounded ponderous but weren’t sure why? You want the essence of your writing to come through, but needless words and phrases can get in the way and weigh down your prose. Solution: put your writing on a five-step diet.
Cut Out Habit and Useless Words
We all have many of the same habit words: that, had, as, was, were, but, would, could, so, as if, now, then, still, the, just, looked, begin to, really, very, perhaps, seemed, started. These will obscure your meaning and weaken your writing. The search function on your word program comes in handy for habit-word-seek-and-destroy. Proudly proclaim yourself a word-nerd and get to slashing!
In a first draft I tend to have a character think something, next say it, and then explain it, especially if it is crucial to the story and the reader’s understanding. Or I have a character re-explain something later in the story to be sure the reader remembers. Trust your readers. They understand. They remember. They get it.
Adverbs and Adjectives Begone!
Use both sparingly. Rewrite so your writing stands without the need for excessive modifiers and describers. Adverbs and adjectives are crutches and will cause your prose to limp along instead of flowing. Beware anything ending in –ly! Search, fix, and trust yourself and your writing abilities.
Don’t State the Obvious
You can cross your arms across your chest. Or sit down. Or stand up. Or reach out to pick up a card. Something might be absolutely essential. Or the exact same. You get it. In the interest of brevity, I won’t explain
Dump Useless phrases
Phrases like these add words, not meaning: of course, in fact, no doubt, needless to say, sort of, kind of, in light of this, in a nutshell. They will slow your prose to a crawl.
Don’t edit until you are done with your first draft (remember—first draft is to get the writing on the page without stopping to judge). When you are finished, put your writing away for at least 24 hours (or a week if possible) then rewrite to dump thoughts and sentences that don’t add to your idea. In the next editing pass go for phrases, and finally, a pass to slash words. In his book “On Writing” Stephen King advises to get rid of 10% as a rule of thumb (in a 100,000 word manuscript cut 10,000 words, or a 500 word letter cut 50). It quickly becomes apparent which words are worth their weight and which words and phrases don’t add anything.