Library Writers Group: Writing Concisely

24 Jan

My writers’ group (four strong at the moment!) met last week and one of our members discussed writing concisely. At first, I was wondering where she would go with this topic but we talked about wanting to write concisely to get to our points faster and be as succinct as possible while still being comprehensive. With these ideas below, I took a piece at 500 words and cut down another 80!

The first is to obviously try to cut words. There are many lists available of words different writers recommend cutting. These can include look, feel, so, just, even, really, finally, only, and many others. Words like see, feel, think, and know usually can’t be cut themselves, but are an indication that there’s a way to cut words around these words. There are phrases known as redundant pairs that can always be cut such as sit down (sit) and stood up (stood).

Rephrasing is another way to cut words. Passive voice is usually wordier than its active alternative. Phrases can be shortened altogether, taking ‘the chair with brown legs’ to ‘the brown legged chair’ (5->4). Clauses starting with that, who, and which, can be turned to phrases. ‘My teacher, who I respect very much, likes hiking’ becomes ‘my well-respected teacher likes hiking’ (9->7). Sentences that start with There/It are/is can usually be shortened as well. ‘There are three bookshelves in my living room’ becomes ‘I have three bookshelves in my living room’ (8->7). The final thing we covered was a new term for all of us. Nominalization refers to turning a verb into a noun and makes sentences a lot longer. ‘The reconciling of monthly statements is Mary’s job’ becomes ‘Mary’s job is to reconcile monthly statements’ (8->7).

Many times, sentences become redundant. We were given the example ‘Some ideas can be incorporated into another sentence. This will make the writing simpler.’ I got this 14-word idea into 5: Combining ideas makes writing simpler. Combining can be done at both a sentence and paragraph level. I find myself repeating things within a paragraph from time to time.

There’s more cutting to be done. Taking out weak words and adding strong ones can make something shorter by avoiding repetitive description, adjectives, or adverbs. Prepositional phrases can often be cut. We read an article that recommended outlining after finishing the first draft. It can show pacing to show the author where to cut and any subplots that weren’t finished and can be taken out. Another suggestion was to look at each scene and break down the elements of a scene within it. This can also show pacing and show which elements might be over-done and could use some cutting.

We covered some ways to practice concise writing. My favorite is tweeting. When you’re limited to 140 characters, you have to make each one count. A fun exercise we did was taking the first part of a Wikipedia article and cutting the word count in half. This was really fun to do and I highly recommend it.

We’ll be back next month with more. I’m excited I won’t have to miss this group while my class is in session. Until next time, write on.

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10 Responses to “Library Writers Group: Writing Concisely”

  1. jabrush1213 January 24, 2017 at 7:20 PM #

    Great post on cutting down word by being creative.


    • Sam January 24, 2017 at 8:49 PM #

      Thanks! I find myself being too wordy a lot. The advice helped me a lot. Happy writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Emily Witt January 24, 2017 at 8:13 PM #

    I think is a really interesting topic! I remember reading a blog post a while ago where the author was talking about how one of her beta readers had picked her up on a lot of what he called “filler language” which I think is similar. You sort of touched on it here. The example she used in the post was “My heart felt like it was breaking into a million pieces” vs. “My heart [was breaking]/[broke] into a million pieces”. The second sentence is more concise and packs a lot more punch, too.


    • Sam January 24, 2017 at 8:49 PM #

      Yes! Filler words like ‘felt’ or ‘thought’ can be taking out to be more concise. It’s something I never considered but, as you say, it can help pack a punch! Happy writing!


  3. Book Club Mom January 24, 2017 at 9:35 PM #

    Sometimes it’s hard to be concise, but these exercises will help! I like the Twitter suggestion!


    • Sam January 25, 2017 at 5:16 PM #

      Thanks! I like to think my tweeting has a more constructive purpose. Happy writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. thereaderiswarned January 25, 2017 at 12:14 PM #

    Great post! Its so super easy to fall into these patterns without even realising it. I am wondering if I could have cut down that first line I just wrote to make it shorter! Probably didn’t need super, or even…


    • Sam January 25, 2017 at 6:15 PM #

      Haha, I’m trying not to over analyze everything I write anymore. These tips are great for a final round of editing but I know I’m guilty of most of them on my blog. Happy writing!

      Liked by 1 person

      • thereaderiswarned January 25, 2017 at 6:21 PM #

        Haha, that’s encouraging. Your right, this stuff is most useful at the editing stage!


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