scissors, black and white office, ejbwritingstudio, erin j bernard

Chopping Your Way to Better Writing

I’m not into fashion, but I do faithfully adhere to one foundational piece of style advice: before you leave the house, remove one item from your person.

Accessory, bracelet, scarf, ring, hat, whatever.

Why does it work? Because, no matter how hard you’ve endeavored to keep it basic, inevitably, you’re still trying a little too hard.

And the metaphor extends to writing. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re about to put a piece to bed, try cutting something out. It doesn’t matter how short the piece already is; it’s still longer than it needs to be, I promise.

If you aren’t sure where to start, consider trimming:

  • throwaway words. Look for: “that” “there is” “here is” “very” “to be sure” “in all fairness” “literally” “inevitably” “potentially.”
  • Dull-as-dirt dialogue. There’s always a lame direct quote floating around somewhere whose essential premise is restated elsewhere. Excise it.
  • Parenthetical content. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good parenthesis. But if a bit of information is tangential enough that you feel compelled to ostracize it from the rest of the text, does it really belong? And is a life between bars truly worth living? Cut the thought loose and save it for another day.
  • Ready to level up? Try hacking off your last or first paragraph entirely. You will be SHOCKED (and perhaps dismayed) at how often you can do this without losing anything important or relevant.
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