• Get Your Story Straight

Cut the Flab and Get Your Writing in Shape

Is it time to put your writing on a diet? Has it grown all puffy and bloated – larded up with excessive verbiage weighing down your message?

It’s such a shame your writing is so overwrought because it has such a pretty message. (Fellow fat girls, you probably know the mean little “compliment” I’m referencing.)

This offense is more often known as wordiness, but “bloat” says it for me. Of course, modifiers and long, complex sentences have their place. Too often, however, they are stuffed unnecessarily into a sentence because we’re addicted to the pretty sounds of more and more words flowing along for no good reason except we think they sound nice. (Phew!) It weighs everything down, so the reader has to work more than they should to get your meaning.

Use moderation with modifiers

Extra words are a kind of sugar fix for the writer. They may seem to give your words a quick burst of energy, but they only add empty verbiage.

I blame online writing and its minimum word counts for some of this. Too many of us try to pump up thin content by adding empty words. But is it so wrong to call something “very important” instead of just “important” if it brings you one word closer to your minimum? (Um, yes, it is.) You could do a little thinking or even some research to find words that show rather than declare importance, which would even add a few legitimate words to your count. But with the paltry sums paid by content farms, is it worth the effort?

That’s your decision to make, but if good writing is your goal, let’s work on cutting the fat.

First, a caveat. The simple declarative sentence – subject, verb, object, with only the necessary modifiers – is not the only way to write. If all sentences were devoid of decoration, they would be very boring, which I believe is the first deadly sin of writing. You need to vary sentence length and syntax to prevent monotony.

That said:

6 ways to get your writing lean and clean

  1. Go through each sentence and scrutinize modifiers. Do they add anything but weight? Empty words like “very,” “really,” and “extremely” almost never do. What’s the difference between “pretty” and “very pretty”? Not much.
  2. When you come to a comma, stop. If it’s connecting two clauses, could they be made into stand-alone sentences? If not, be sure you have a good reason for making your reader go so long without reaching the end.
  3. Look for phrases that can be compacted. Why say something like “in a holistic fashion” when “holistically” does the job of four words single-handedly? It could be that you’re going for a more formal tone. But, again, be sure you have a good reason.
  4. Try a starvation diet. Just for a paragraph or two, try this experiment. Cut out all modifiers and limit your sentences to 10 words or fewer. It’s probably too severe, and you’ll want to add back a few of those words, but you’ll prove to yourself that you can do it. I bet it won’t feel as bad as you thought it would.
  5. Use editing software as your backup. I use Grammarly to check for spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and plagiarism. I don’t always agree with its recommendations, but it has made some good saves for me. It’s scrupulous about spotting wordiness and monotonous syntax – perfect for what we’re discussing here.
  6. Walk away. After finishing your piece, take an hour or two or even overnight and then come back and check for all the issues I’ve mentioned here. Read like your reader and ask yourself if all those words work. If they don’t, put ‘em on a diet.

Try a few of these tips, and your writing will be trim and toned before you know it.

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One Reply to “Cut the Flab and Get Your Writing in Shape”

  1. this sure resonates this week! Going to email this to my daughter, too!! TY

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