In our new 4 part weekly resource series of writing tips, Tiffany Mayer helps you polish your skills and strengthen your confidence and impact as a writer. First up is a diet ... no, not that kind. A word diet!
They have a way of creeping into our writing, like another kitchen gadget into our utensil drawer.
I’m talking about unnecessary words or phrases that use up valuable space in our blog posts.
Removing one or two words from a sentence can make a big difference to your writing without altering the voice you’ve worked so hard to develop. But clear, concise writing requires practice and an unsentimental eye when editing our work, to the benefit of our portfolios and readers.
Here are a few ways to trim the fat and become a lean, mean writing machine:
I just wish there was a very easy way to do this
There is. The header of this section is a perfect example of where to start. Adverbs, such as "very" and "just" don’t add anything to a sentence. Nix them and remind yourself that every word should be important.
Writing in the simple tense also puts the squeeze on your word count. Instead of “I had begun to cook the ramen” try “I started cooking the ramen.” Even better, “I cooked the ramen.”
Ignore what your university professors said and use contractions, too. In addition to tightening your writing, contractions add a conversational tone to your post that’s engaging for readers.
“I think” is another easy target. We know what you’re thinking when you write “Tofurky tastes better deep-fried” so take the word credit you saved by trimming “I think” from that sentence and spend it on something that enhances your post.
Watch for sneaky prepositions, too, such as "that" or "of," for example: “She was happy I gave her flowers when she got off the plane” rather than “She was happy that I gave her flowers when she got off of the plane.”
Use adjectives sparingly
Word diet image from Shutterstock
You can use simple words to build drama. That’s not to say avoid adjectives always but be choosy when you use them, and particularly with how many you use. Did you use two adjectives similar in meaning to describe the same thing? Choose your favourite and leave the other on the cutting room floor. Read this example of how going easy on the adjectives can make for great writing that still evokes incredible imagery for the reader.
Going into things head first
While it can use up a lot of words, backing into sentences can also make your writing convoluted, if you know what I mean. Sorry, say that again? Backing into sentences uses a lot of words and convolutes your writing. Try to avoid it.
Avoid the passive voice
You’ll be amazed at how many superfluous words you’ll avoid if you write how you speak. That means using the active voice at the keyboard like in face-to-face conversation. However, many of us tend to write in a passive voice. Instead of “The ramen was eaten by my cousin,” which you would never say in conversation, write “My cousin ate the ramen.”
Stay away from the Department of Redundancy Department
Redundancy lurks everywhere, waiting to confuse readers and delighting in eluding us while editing. Free gift, brand new, complete stranger, heavy in weight, few in number, consensus of opinion, brief summary, dull in appearance, red in colour — in each of these, one word implies the rest of the phrase. So why use two or three words when you can use one?
More great tips to help you with your writing skills:
- Talk to Me: The Basics of Interviewing
- 16 Writing Prompts for Food Bloggers
- There's a Story In My Soup
Be sure to check out the rest of Tiffany's Writing Workshop Series!
- Narrative Know-How: Using Creative Non-Fiction In Blog Posts
- Have I Got A Story For You: How To Pitch An Editor
- Care To Chat? How To Ask For An Interview
Tiffany Mayer is a freelance journalist and author of Niagara Food: A Flavourful History of the Peninsula’s Bounty (History Press, 2014). She blogs about food and farming at eatingniagara.com.