Techniques to Cure Wordiness

cheeseitsI’ll tell you a secret. I’ve developed a habit on Sundays. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve come into it honestly. My own seminary training and twenty-plus years of preaching experience have rendered me powerless to avoid it–I recognize when the pastor’s message is over and I shut my Bible and put away the pen I used to take notes. It’s over! He’s done!

The trouble is, the pastor seldom realizes he’s done. He rambles on. Sometimes at burdensome length. Many times he doesn’t even close when he stops preaching, but he revisits what he believes to be salient points in the closing prayer and benediction.

Amen, already!

Good writing, like good preaching, rests on this important principle: the start and the finish are more important than the middle.

In this post–fourth in the series–I want to tackle finishing.

In sermons, there is only one ending–can I get an Amen? Writing, however, has the potential for several endings; sentence endings, paragraph endings, chapter endings and of course, ending endings–“And they all lived happily ever after.”

Work at recognizing the importance and purpose of your endings. And then conclude them with your very best and most dutiful words. 

Consider this sentence: “We need to do something about the difficulties we’re having.” To end the sentence “we’re having” adds nothing, and even misdirects emphasis. What would you want to emphasize in this sentence?

You could choose to emphasize the difficulties to make the sentence stronger: “We need to do something about these difficulties.” Or, better still, you could emphasize urgency: “We need to do something about these difficulties right now!”

Here’s the point: In revising the sentence ending, you’ve added energy, even emotion. It carries the reader forward.

Notice I trimmed the “we’re experiencing” in both improvements. Wasted words! And you know we are all about curing wordiness. When a word restates something that’s already implied in sentence and context, it is fluff you should excise. Difficulties, in the context of the example–of course they’re being experienced. The experience is integral.

“Shari and I are always looking for new restaurants to try.” Cut “to try.” Of course we’re going to try them–why else would you be on the lookout for new restaurants?

Troubles that you’re experiencing … interruptions that are occurring … mistakes that keep happening … Spare us! We get it. And end it with a bang: Troubles! Interruptions! Mistakes! Oh My! Leave your reader wondering, Where do you go from there?

Which takes us to … starts. Next time.


Wisdom for Writers

inkwell“I begin with the first sentence and trust to Almighty God for the second.” –Laurence Sterne

3 Keys to Working with Editors

More than a year ago I posted, Who Needs and Editor? You! If you think you don’t, you’re silly. Go back and read it.

bluepencilWorking with editors over the years has led me to a conclusion–there are three keys to help you develop a happy and productive author/editor relationship. Get these three things right and you won’t go wrong.

#1 Choose and editor who gets you. Yes, you need someone who is skilled in the field, but when it comes to your manuscript, it is even more important that your editor recognizes your style, tone and voice and doesn’t nix them with their editing strokes. This takes rapport at least, relationship at best. If your editor doesn’t take the time to get you, get another editor.

#2 Be very clear about the kind of editing you are looking for your editor to complete. Do you simply want a proofreading? Perhaps simple line-editing? More in-depth or substantive editing? Clarity at the get-go will make you both much more comfortable within the process.

#3 Produce a stylesheet to accompany your manuscript to your editor. If you don’t know what a manuscript stylesheet is, Google is your friend. There are several templates available on the web. Simply put, this is a sheet that will allow your editor to understand your choice of words, terms, style and formatting throughout. It will help the editor bring consistency to their work, and more importantly, to your manuscript.

There you have it… wisdom, wisdom, wisdom… and for free!

Had any good (or not so good) author/editor experiences to share?

Techniques to Cure Wordiness

grammar manAs I said when I started this series of posts, a writer’s greatest skill should be allowing words to do their work. If we do that, our writing should be very concise. This post is a second in the series–a how-to. Kick out the clutter. See if you don’t sense the beauty of words anew.

Technique #:2 Replace redundant pairs with single words.

I think this bad habit–including unnecessary word pairs–came into practice thanks to lawyers who desire their written prose in letter and briefs to look deserving of the huge bill that will surely follow. A lawyer turns a few word couplets like aid and abet or cease and desist, and he can add another zero, left of the decimal, on the invoice. A hundred dollars just became a thousand. Do you see?


Any and all … each and every … one and only … few and far between … first and foremost … peace and quiet … and for the truly loquacious, various and sundry.

Isn’t any included in all? Each covered by every? One represented in the word only? Who even uses the word sundry anymore? Cut! Cut! Cut!

It’s biblical, this advice I’m giving you! Jesus said, “When you … write … don’t do it like lawyers who think that they’ll be heard because of their many words.” Of course that’s a paraphrase. But the point is spot-on: get rid of the fluff and let words, beautiful, meaningful words, communicate as they’re intended! Your reader will get it. They’ll appreciate that you spared them the sticky fluff.

Look back through a section of your manuscript, or the copy you’re working on today. If it reads like a lawyer, OBJECT!