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Waste Not

Lazy writers waste words. They use three when one excellent, descriptive verb or adjective will do much better. That's what's called "tight writing."

Having written for magazines and corporate newsletters for years, I've learned the value and necessity of tight writing. Usually, I'm given a specific word count. Rarely, I have a crappy subject and I find myself having to pad the copy, because there wasn't much to write about in the first place. More often, however, I find myself finding ways to cut out words to stay within the word-count limits. This means searching for waste and finding ways to fix it.

This is especially true when writing audio or video scripts. You're given 30 or 60 seconds to tell a story. This background has honed my skills in eliminating wasted words.

Additionally, in my work as an editor, I've become hypervigilant. I'm on the lookout for errors and ways the book or article could be improved. When editing, I seek and destroy weak verbs and adjectives like a heat-seeking missile.

Jerry Jenkins, author of the Left Behind series quotes author Francine Prose in his editing checklist (​) for authors: "For any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, or especially cut, is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form: clear, economical, sharp." His list is worth heeding, especially points three and four.

My background has helped make me a tight writer. Occasionally, I'll have an article "just right" in my opinion, only to find it falls short of the suggested word count. Still, I don't pad the story with unnecessary words. I look for information in my notes and memory bank that could be added to make the story more interesting. For me, that's harder than cutting.

What about you? Take a hard, unflinching look at some of the pieces you've written and look for the waste. Where could you have cut unnecessary words or substituted one great word for a few weak ones?

Share your methods for tightening your writing and avoiding wasted words in the comments below or on my blog at

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