Friday, November 11, 2016

When less is more

Word count is vital whether you are writing an article, blog or a book. When I worked at Today’s Parent, we would often ditch the first paragraph of articles submitted.   Why?  Because we would have lost the reader if we’d run it as is.

Often the hook to keep the reader engaged is further down the page.  Partly it’s because the author wants to set the stage before leaping into the meat of the piece. 

But with low attention spans and a need for an instant take on articles, we lose the reader before we’ve even started.  And that’s who we want to entice to stay with us.

In working with authors on shaping their books, I often have to remind them about the reader.  What will they learn from reading your book?  Is this piece of information useful or more feeding your need to get it down on paper?

Get clear on your message, your audience and why you are writing in the first place. Clarify what you want to write about. As Michael Hyatt recommends,  first you do the writing and then the editing, and should not try to do both simultaneously.  In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott talks about the “shitty” first drafts, because that’s what they are – first drafts.

But we also need to learn to write tighter, to use fewer words and to keep it simple, instead of using our writing as a way to show off our extensive vocabulary. Less is more.

There are ways to tighten up your writing and it takes practice.  Next piece you write, try cutting it down by 50 words.   You’ll be surprised how many superfluous words we use.   What to watch for? 

  • ·      Avoid empty filler words like it, here, there.
  • ·      Replace lightweight verbs with ones of action – instead of She is blogging. try She blogs.
  • ·      The words really and very add nothing to your writing
  • ·      Tell it straight.  You will then hold the reader’s attention.
  • ·      Avoid using words that spell out what’s obvious – such as free of charge – when saying free will do.
  • ·      Avoid using extra words that aren’t doing extra work – using the word Many for example, instead of A large number of … Or saying A complete stranger when A stranger will do.
  • ·      Use short paragraphs so the reader carries on.

This blog was much longer, but I took my own advice and cut it down.