You've sat down to write a magazine article, a short blog post, or even a few chapters for your next novel. Everything is coming together nicely, but you know it's a little too wordy.
Your editor wants 700 words max. You wrote 787.
It's supposed to be a 300-word blog. You have 400.
Each chapter should be 3,000 words. Oops!
You need to cut something. But what? How? From where?
Plenty of writers struggle to be efficient with their words, especially when they have a good story brewing or are trying to make a point. It feels like everything they wrote is critical to the overall piece – but if they look closer, that's not always the case.
If you've been a little too wordy, here are five ways to trim the word count in your writing.
1. Remove empty-calorie words
Remove words such as very, that, really, and more. They contribute nothing to a sentence except making it longer and inflating your word count. And while you're at it, take a hard look at phrases like at all times, in the event that, and in order to. Use always, if, and to instead.
2. Use the Active Voice
With the active voice, the subject in the sentence acts upon its verb. Not only is active voice easier to read than passive voice, but it strengthens each sentence and can eliminate excess words.
Passive voice: The steak was cooked by John.
Active voice: John cooked the steak.
Passive voice: Steve was yelled at by Leslie for not doing the laundry
Active voice: Leslie yelled at Steve for not doing the laundry.
3. Use a big word
I prefer to use a smaller, easier-to-understand word rather than big words that no one understands or uses. But as Mathina Calliope wrote in The Charm of the Large Word, sometimes the big word is the right word and the best word. She uses the word "calamities" as an example of how she saved two words in the following sentences.
"Not all these things going wrong would spell death, of course."
“Not all these calamities would spell death, of course.”
4. Limit descriptions
Being descriptive adds flavor and charm to your writing, especially in a novel. But don't overdo it. Each time you describe how your characters were amazed by a menacing mansion, its large windows, and the sound the door makes when it opens, you increase your word count. If you have space, go for it. If you don't, shorten those descriptions. Conversely, know your platform. A novel is an excellent place for descriptions, whereas a blog post should be short and informative.
5. Trim the fat
Any tangent, side story, padding, or self-referential note that doesn't add value to what you're writing, answers a question for the reader, or pushes the plot along can be removed. This may feel like a dagger to your creative spirit, but in reality, what you're doing is a good thing. Instead of distracting readers, you are keeping them engaged from start to finish. That's the best way to tell a story – and be less wordy.
You'd be surprised how wordy we all are! And while it can be difficult to find ways to trim the word count in your writing, patience and a keen eye help. Writing concisely allows you to present more information with fewer words while maintaining a clear message.
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Thanks for reading!
*STEVE GAMEL is the President & Owner of Edit This, a writing and editing services company located in Denton, TX. Steve handles anything involving the written word. Give him a call today to help give your business a clear voice.