January 15, 2007

You're Too Wordy


Rookie writer's often make two key mistakes. First, They are redundant. They tell you multiple times what they want to tell you. Because telling you multiple times and being redundant makes sure you get the point.

The second mistake is to be too wordy. Actually, this isn't a mistake; this is a lack of editing or the residual of the bad writing habits your high school and college teachers taught you. (One of the downfalls of "2,000" word essay in college is that you learn to meet that word count with a lot of "fluffy" writing and nothing of any real substance.)

As a writer you want to be descriptive, and you want to get the point across. Your first draft should just be a free flow of ideas and thoughts; just get IT on paper. In the rewrite and edit is where you clean up all that junk. Sentences that are too long get cut, misspelled words get corrected, and grammar gets straightened out.

When a sentence gets too long and we run the risk of losing our reader. Believe it or not you can more by saying less. Even our "good" sentences can be made more succinct and precise by cleaning up the language. As the old writing cliche goes, you have to "murder your darlings."

Every writer, especially on the first draft, is too wordy. It is natural. But the good writer cleans this up in edit. (You do it. Don't wait for an editor to do it for you.) A good rule of thumb is for your final edited version to be 10% SHORTER than your first. Sometimes it may be a whole new piece after you are done.

As I was writing a piece for submission, I caught myself going through this kind of editing process. I don't know why it seemed to leap out at me, but it did. Usually that stuff just happens and I don't step outside of process to think about the process itself.

By the time I was done with the first draft of this sentence it was 29 words long (21 words is the maximum sentence length for readability-sake). I got it down to 20 words. I am putting the progression here so you can see what I mean:

They are able to confidently trust God for the unforeseen future because they are looking back at all the times God had faithfully cared for them in the past.

They are able to trust God for the unforeseen future because they are looking back at all the times God had faithfully cared for them in the past.

They are able to trust God for the future because they are looking back at all the times God had faithfully cared for them in the past.

They are able to trust God for the future because they are looking back at the times God had faithfully cared for them in the past.

They are able to trust God for the future because they are looking back at the times God faithfully cared for them in the past.

They are able to trust God for the future because they are looking back at the times God cared for them in the past.

They can trust God for the future because they are looking back at the times God cared for them in the past.

They can trust God for the future because they are looking at how God cared for them in the past.

Sometimes we can reduce a sentence too far, but not very often. At the same time there some writers who are good at adding all the fluff. They seem to make it work. You do need to account for your own personal style, but having your "personal style" should not be an excuse for bad writing. Like Andy Stanley says, "Being yourself is no excuse for bad communication habits."

For the most part, precise, succinct language is always best; especially for web content writing. Bloggers are notorious for bad writing. They misspell words and use horrible grammar. I have failed many times in this because blogging lends itself to immediate publication. So our writing makes it to the world without our taking time to edit.

3 comments:

  1. One of the nice things about blogging though, is that if you notice yur speling airors, you can always go bak and edit. Unfortunitley you cant do that wen you leaf a coment. :-) Thas one of my bigest anoyinces.

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  2. LOLOL!

    Sorry that was funny.

    I think I would have ended up with:

    They can trust God for the unknown future because they are looking at how God cared for them in the past.

    Somehow the "unforseen" or as I used, unknown made it better for me.

    Don't know. I tend to be too wordy (sssshhhh!).

    Kind of like... "It's like when you are sitting in a mud puddle..."

    Yeah I need to rewrite that.

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  3. First, They are redundant. They tell you multiple times what they want to tell you. Because telling you multiple times and being redundant makes sure you get the point.


    You know I was so tired I missed that.

    Smart aleck. LOL

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