Have you ever struggled to read writing that felt heavy for no reason? Or thought something you wrote sounded ponderous but weren’t sure why? You want the essence of your writing to come through, but needless words and phrases can get in the way and weigh down your prose. Improve your writing skills by putting your writing on a five-step diet.
Improve Your Writing Skills: Cut Habit and Useless Words
We all have many of the same habit words: that, had, as, was, were, but, would, could, so, as if, now, then, still, the, just, looked, begin to, really, very, perhaps, seemed, started. These will obscure your meaning and weaken your writing. The search function on your word program comes in handy for habit-word-seek-and-destroy. Proudly proclaim yourself a word-nerd and get to slashing!
Improve Your Writing Skills: Don’t Repeat
In a first draft I tend to have a character think something, next say it, and then explain it, especially if it is crucial to the story and the reader’s understanding. Or I have a character re-explain something later in the story to be sure the reader remembers. Trust your readers. They understand. They remember. They get it.
Improve Your Writing Skills: Adverbs and Adjectives Begone!
Use both sparingly. Rewrite so your writing stands without the need for excessive modifiers and describers. Adverbs and adjectives are crutches and will cause your prose to limp along instead of flowing. Beware anything ending in –ly! Search, fix and trust yourself and your writing abilities.
Improve Your Writing Skills: Don’t State the Obvious
You can cross your arms across your chest. Or sit down. Or stand up. Or reach out to pick up a card. Something might be absolutely essential. Or the exact same. You get it. In the interest of brevity, I won’t explain 🙂
Improve Your Writing Skills: Dump Useless phrases
Phrases like these add words, not meaning: of course, in fact, no doubt, needless to say, sort of, kind of, in light of this, in a nutshell. They will slow your prose to a crawl.
One more extra tip to improve your writing skills. Don’t edit until you are done with your first draft (remember— the first draft is to get the writing on the page without stopping to judge). When you are finished, put your writing away for at least 24 hours (or a week if possible) then rewrite to dump thoughts and sentences that don’t add to your idea. In the next editing pass go for phrases, and finally, a pass to slash words. In his book “On Writing” Stephen King advises to get rid of 10% as a rule of thumb (in a 100,000 word manuscript cut 10,000 words, or a 500 word letter cut 50). It quickly becomes apparent which words are worth their weight and which words and phrases don’t add anything.
Need more help revising your book? Read How to Revise: Six Steps to Story Strength.
Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the “Spirit of the River Series:” “First, There is a River,” “Jasper Mountain,” and “Theater of Illusion,” available online and in bookstores everywhere. Additionally, Kathy is published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, “Between the Lines.” She writes from a log home in the woods of southwestern Wisconsin that she shares with her husband and three cats. Find out more at www.kathysteffen.com