Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Business Basics for Today’s Writer: Over Writing—The Mark of a Lazy Writer

by Edie Melson

If we look at writing from a numbers point of view, it would be logical to assume that the more words, the better. But writing is NOT a numbers sport, and over writing is the mark of a lazy writer.

It's also something we all do, especially in a first draft. There's nothing wrong with that—as long as we take the time to go back and rework what we've written. 


Myth:
The more words the better. Some of the great writers of all time come to mind to support this myth—can anyone say Charles Dickens? But one thing people forget about this great author is he made his living writing serials for a newspaper. Keeping the story going, kept the paycheck coming. Don’t get me wrong, I think Charles Dickens was a genius writer. But his era was very different from ours. Wise writers take that into consideration before using him as an example to be long-winded.

Fact:
It takes more work and more skill to use fewer words to convey the same meaning.

Just in case you’re not convinced, here’s a real-life example. It’s from an article I sold to a home improvement website.

Long-winded version:
An epoxy floor covering for the garage can be a really good thing. It can increase the value of your home and make keeping the garage clean and organized easy. But there are downsides to this option.

We have all gotten the advice that doing something right the first time is the best way. This saying is definitely true when it comes to applying an epoxy floor covering to the garage. When the epoxy floor covering is applied by a qualified professional it can last a lifetime. But if you don’t find a quality product, and a qualified installer the outcome of this project can end up costing you cash instead of saving you. This article will give you everything you need to make the best decision when it comes to adding an epoxy finish to your garage. (138 words)

Tightened version:
We’ve all heard the axiom, “Do it right the first time.” This was never more true than when it’s applied to epoxy flooring for the garage. This floor covering can last a lifetime, when applied by a qualified professional. Or it can last less than a year, if you chose the wrong product and installer. We’ll give you all the information you need to make an informed decision. (68 words)

Because of space constraints, the word count was absolute. I had to deliver an informative article in 420 words or less. That meant I had to cut everything that wasn’t absolutely necessary.

What had to go (and why):  
In the long-winded version of the article, I have a nice lead-in paragraph. It’s not bad, but it’s also not necessary. The tight version manages to give the same information in just under half the word count.

In the long-winded version of the article, there are also lots of repeated words. Not only is this sloppy writing, but it’s also irritating to read. 

Tightening up an article is one thing, but what about fiction

The same principles hold true. It's never a good idea to slow down a good story with unneeded verbiage. Here’s an example from a scene I wrote for a cozy mystery:

Long-winded version:
She got out of bed and paced around the room, taking deep breaths and willing her heart rate to slow. She’d read somewhere it helped with panic attacks, but it certainly wasn’t doing her any good. Glancing down at the phone still in her hand, her finger shook as it scrolled through previous calls. Her pacing slowed to a stop in the middle of the room. This couldn’t be right. None of the numbers were familiar. (76 words)

Tightened version:
She got out of bed and paced the room, taking deep breaths and willing her heart rate to slow. She’d read somewhere it helped with panic attacks, but it certainly wasn’t doing her any good. Her finger shook as it scrolled though previous calls. Her pacing stopped. This couldn’t be right. None of the numbers were familiar. (57 words)

What had to go (and why): 
In the long-winded version there are several phrases that could be cut because her actions implied them.

Pacing - implies around the room. No one can pace in one place.
Her Finger shook as it scrolled through previous calls - implies she was glancing down at the phone still in her hand. She's got to be looking at the phone to do this.

In the long-winded version, I slowed down the action in a tense scene with the phrase, her pacing slowed to a stop in the middle of the room. It's much stronger to just say, her pacing stopped.

As you can see, no matter what you're writing brevity is pure gold. Take time to go back over your words, evaluate the effectiveness of each one and keep only the ones you need.

How about you? Are there any redundant phrases you see in books or articles that irritate you?


Don't forget to join the conversation!
Blessings,
Edie

Tweetables
Over writing - it really is the mark of a lazy writer. (Click to Tweet)

Writing tight is pure gold - in fiction and non-fiction. (Click to Tweet)

11 comments:

  1. Great advice! Writing is rewriting. :-)

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    1. Pat, you are so write! LOL! Blessings, E

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  2. This is true. When I'm limited to a 600 word article ... each time I edit, I find more words to cut ... and I'll wonder, "Why didn't I see that to cut the first edit?" We get wordy. Make it tight.

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    1. Shelli, I don't think I've ever gone back to anything I've written and thought it was perfect. I always see something I could change to make it better! Thanks for sharing your experiences! Blessings, E

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  3. Thanks, Edie. This was great. Your posts are so helpful! Thank you.

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    1. Crickett, I'm so glad this has been helpful! Blessings, E

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  4. I was asked by an agent at the ACFW conference to cut my 120k manuscript down to less than 90k before submitting it to her. I almost cried. Okay, I cried. She had tissue. But when I went through it (for the 4th or 5th time mind you), I was amazed at how much I found that could be cut and not change the story. Including an entire character. That's another blog post...if a character is doing the same thing other characters can be doing, fire him.

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    1. I know just how you feel. My agent cut the first 7 chapters from my current book. At first I was devastated, but now I see how much better the book is. It's much stronger. Thanks for stopping by, Blessings, E

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  5. Great article and SO true! Thanks Edie.

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  6. I took several courses on writing for children a few years ago, and that's what helped me learn to cut words. Kids like to get to the point, and stories and articles for them have to be short. One thing I learned - using one perfect adjective is more effective than a string of them.

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  7. I took a few courses in writing for children not long ago, and that's where I learned to be ruthless with words. Kids like to get to the point, and stories and articles for them have to be short or the writer will lose them after the first sentence. Something I learned - one great adjective is worth more than a string of so-so ones.

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