By: Lisa Edwards
“Vigorous writing is concise. 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. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
― William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style
I’m an Introvert through and through, and so I edit my thoughts before speaking. And often, I never manage to get out my thoughts because I’ve edited them to the point where I don’t know what I was originally trying to say. But that is the beauty of writing and editing of course. You get to let all of your thoughts flow onto paper in whatever way they come, and then you can move them around so that they complement each other in the best way possible. And you only have to keep the best words. You can let go of the rest.
I’ve come to the conclusion that if I could communicate with the world only through writing, my soul would be much happier. But it doesn’t work that way, so I play along, although I’d much prefer to get all of my thoughts out using a keyboard or a pen and paper.
Writing about Editing
I sometimes find it hard to write about editing
, because it comes as second nature to me. It is not something I dread but enjoy. It is just part of the writing process for me. It isn’t something I have to remind myself to do. It just happens.
I realize it’s not that easy for everyone, though. It’s sometimes hard to let go — especially when you have a really great phrase, sentence, or even paragraph, but it just doesn’t fit into the particular piece you’re trying to write.
It must go. It has to be done – like it or not.
But how do you decide what makes the cut and what doesn’t? And what do you do when you just can’t bring yourself to let go of the unnecessary words? Here’s some tips for letting go:
1. The Relevance Test.
Are you unsure if something you wrote is 100% relevant to the point of the piece you’re writing?
Give it what I’ll call the “Relevance Test.” Come up with 3-5 main points you’re trying to get across with your writing.
Then ask yourself if the phrase, sentence or paragraph in question is directly or somewhat related to any of those points. If not, you’ve gone off topic.
Cut it out.
If you think the word/words in question may serve a purpose regardless of their randomness, you can always cut and paste them to the bottom of the piece.
Then read it aloud, and then see if those isolated words add value to the piece. If they do, insert them where they belong.
2. The Redundancy Test.
Didn’t you already say that in the last sentence? Or the last paragraph? Or do you say it again later in the piece in a similar way?
Although there are exceptions, and in some cases repetition is necessary, you don’t want to waste the reader’s time by telling them the same thing over and over again. If you feel like you’re repeating yourself without value, cut it out.
3. The Clarity Test.
If you’re reading through your writing and find a sentence that just doesn’t make sense, no matter how many times you read it, cut it out.
You can revise it and see if it is clearer. But if you still stumble, so will the readers. If it’s not clear to you what your words mean, then why do you think a reader is going to understand it? They probably won’t, so let it go.
4. The Excessive Use Test.
Do you use that word over and over because you don’t know how else to describe something? Or maybe you’re using adverbs when they’re completely unnecessary. Keep it simple. If you’re overusing words or using more adjectives just to fill the pages, stop it. No one wants to read your filler words. Cut them out. Still can’t justify letting go? Fine.
Keep a scrap document, journal, notebook,
never-ending email, or whatever works best for you. Whenever you have a word, phrase, sentence or paragraph that you just can’t bear to part with, cut and paste it into a text document, and save it for later. You can then use these little bits of writing as prompts when you’re having Writer’s Block, or if they happen to fit into another piece you’re writing. This way you don’t have to say goodbye forever, just for now.
I’d be interested in how do you decide what stays vs. what must go. Leave me a comment to help me improve my ability to let it go.
About Lisa Edwards
Lisa is the owner of Writer by Default, a company that provides quality writing, editing and social media marketing services to small businesses at affordable prices.
When she’s not working or watching cute animal videos, Lisa can be found reading, exploring the great outdoors via hiking, skiing, and running, or spending quality time her my family.