Thursday, March 28, 2013

Write Tight

The wise old guideline, “write tight,” means to cut extra words.

Write tight: Be concise.

Avoid wordiness.



Trim fat.

Remove jumble.

Cut off dead wood.

Declutter so your readers won’t get bogged down and give up on your book. As The Grammar Girl says, “Readers don’t want to rummage through a messy verbal flea market to discover one or two sparkly gems of information.”  

“Vigorous writing is concise,” says William Strunk, Jr. “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.”

Joseph M. Williams says, “Some words are verbal tics that we use as unconsciously as we clear our throats,” words like actually, particular, really, certain, virtually, individual, basically, generally, and practically.

He gives this before-and-after example:

“Productivity actually depends on certain factors that basically involve psychology more than any particular technology.”

Williams offers this revision: “Productivity depends more on psychology than on technology.” (from Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace)

Remove redundancies such as: I repeated again, he shrugged his shoulders, John gave her true, accurate facts, Eliza served various different appetizers, Teddy ate each and every piece of chocolate.

Often (but not always) you can cut “that” from a sentence. Here’s an example: “I know that you are busy but I think that this is information that you need to know.”

"Prune out all the small words that qualify how you feel and how you think and what you saw: 'a bit,' 'a little,' 'sort of,' 'kind of,' 'rather,' 'quite,' 'very,' 'too,' 'pretty much,' 'in a sense,' and dozens more," writes William Zinsser. "They dilute both your style and your persuasiveness."

"Don't say you were a bit confused," Zinsser continues, "and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be confused. Be tired. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don't hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident." (On  Writing Well, Fourth Edition)

“Keep an eye on the verb ‘make’ when it us used in constructions such as ‘make a decision,’ ‘make a correction,’ and ‘make use of.’ Here’s an example of a bloated sentence:

“‘Seth Bullock will make a decision tomorrow about whether his calling is hardware or law enforcement.’

“Change ‘make a decision’ to ‘decide’ for a leaner sentence:

“‘Seth Bullock will decide tomorrow whether his calling is hardware or law enforcement.’” (from How to Write Clear Sentences, by The Grammar Girl)

What clutter would you remove from the following sentence? (Leave your revision in the comments section below.)

“My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.” (Elmore Leonard)

Often “try to” is another phrase to delete; note the Leonard quote above and the following: “Try to recapture the wonder of being a child.”

How would you revise the next sentence? 

"The good thing about it is that it's one I can complete in fairly easy segments."

Look over your current manuscript. Read it aloud because your ears will hear what your eyes overlook. Then, cut out the clutter and tighten it up.

If you write tight, your readers will appreciate your story’s fast pace and clarity. Instead of stumbling over piles of words and phrases, they’ll focus on your message.

You’ll enjoy these additional articles on writing tight: Jody Renner on Uncluttered Prose (She includes before-and-after examples.)

How to Write Clear Sentences, by The Grammar Girl

At Sharon Lippincott's blog, agent Harry Bingham tells of cutting 70,000 words from a manuscript "to tease out the amazing story that lay buried within. The shorter and more focused the manuscript became, the more appealing it grew."

When you read a great book, 
you're reading an author 
willing to cut 
thousands of words.”  
Donald Miller


  1. Linda, Thank you for another excellent post. As usual, it came at the perfect time for me as I struggle through my revisions. Reading aloud has helped me. I've been taping each chapter and listening for pace and flow. Your post is a great example of "lean and concise writing"-Less is more!
    Easter Blessings,


    1. Hi, Kathy, I know you are in the revision process. It can be tedious but if anyone can get through it, YOU are the one! I had never heard of taping each chapter as a way of checking pace and flow, but that's a super idea! Thanks for sharing it.

      Great to hear from you, Kathy, as always.

      Easter blessings to you, too

  2. This is a fascinating and very helpful post Linda! I'm printing out a copy to keep as a handy reference when reviewing my writing. Thank You!

    1. Hi, Cathy, I'm glad you found this helpful. That's my heart's desire, my prayer. Keep up the good work. I want to read your memoir one of these days. :)


  3. My heart sang with joy as I read this post. YES!

    Sentence revision:
    “My most important piece of advice to writers: leave out the parts readers skip.”

    1. Sharon, the other day I got out your book, The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing, and remembered it has excellent help with this topic of writing tight. I hope our other readers here have (or will soon buy) your book and will take in all your helpful advice!

      As for the revised sentence, how about the following? "My most important advice to writers: leave out the parts readers skip."

      Thanks for your comments, Sharon.


  4. Linda, as always, you bring us gems when most needed. As Kathy said, it's helping with her revisions. For me, it's a time when I'm digging in my heels to write memoir and get it done! I'm also printing this one out for a handy reference tool. Thanks much!


    1. Hi, Sherrey, I agree. Sometimes it's the right time to edit and rewrite for "Writing Tight," but other times you've just gotta set that aside and WRITE. That's what you're doing now. Bless your heart. I know it's a labor of much love on your part.