The job of editing is equal parts art and science, anchored in the golden rule of “eliminate unnecessary words.”
If you’re writing for yourself, in a journal perhaps, your first draft can be your final draft. When writing for readers, it’s a different story. In this case, your first draft is rich, raw clay. Unshaped. Unrefined. In need of paring down.
Crisp and clear DOESN’T mean boring or without personality or color. It means that words that slow down the pace, don’t add meaning or take away your authority should be reconsidered.
Here are words and phrases to look out for:
Slow down the pace
– One of the…
– Each and every…
– In order to… (try replacing with “to”)
Take away impact or authority
– In my opinion… or I believe… (rephrase to a sentence of authority)
Crutch words that don’t add meaning
– Any word that you find you use repeatedly
Crisp, clear writing is easier to read. Easier to read content keeps readers engaged. Engaged readers take in your great work and share their new findings with the world. Everyone wins!
I used to love reading self-help and business books. Snuggling up on the couch on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I’d take in the wisdom and inspiration from the pages like I was drinking from a fire hose. Ahhh…
Was that a dream? Or just another lifetime?
Because now, I have a HUGE list of books that I want to read but have not read because…life.
The War of Art
The Tipping Point
7 Spiritual Laws of Success
Make It Stick
The list goes on. I’ve checked these books out of libraries. Been lent these books. Bought some of the books.
This has been going on for years.
So, let’s get real. It’s not happening.
Yesterday, GetFlashNotes came across my radar. “Think CliffNotes for professionals,” they say. Only this time it doesn’t feel like cheating. Well, maybe a little. But that’s just the Catholic guilt.
GetFlashNotes summarizes core concepts of self-help and business books and then presents it two ways: written and audio formats.
The cost is $1 for an initial 7-day trial, then $29/month after that.
My trial started today, and I fully intend on maxing out that time. How many summaries do you think you can consume in seven days? I’m going for 50. Okay, maybe seven. Or somewhere in between. How about you?
I’ve had it with the pressure put on writing routines.
“Write five pages a day. (Every day. For the rest of your life.)”
“Real writers write every morning as soon as they wake up.”
“If you don’t write every day, you’re not taking your writing seriously.”
These messages are everywhere and this lady is not following along like they are commandments.
Guess what? Everyone is different. Every writing muse is different. Some muses respond to structure, to daily habits. My writing muse gives regularity the middle finger, with surprising regularity.
Forget about fiction, creative nonfiction or even journal writing for a moment. When I create a “habit” to write a blog post with any kind of regularity, my passion withers. No, it dies. There’s no fun in it for me anymore.
Apparently writing regularly is law when it comes to developing any kind of “following” on any social media outlet. You know what? I have to trust that my kindred spirits will not give a flying fish about how often I am posting (back me up here), but they will sniff out any content that isn’t filled with passion.
Passion for me starts from having something meaningful to say. Having a burning in my soul that needs to be released and shared in the world. For me, it doesn’t work to sit down and fish around for something to say. The muse comes in bursts. Wakes me up in the middle of the night because she needs to get her insides out. She sits me down at a computer (right now) on barely 5 hours sleep because she needs to talk.
It’s the same with fiction or any other kind of writing. For me. Maybe not for you. Maybe for you, the passion ignites FROM the structure of daily habits. And that, my friends, is the variety of which the tapestry of the world is created.
There are a million different ways to live a life and personality types abound. I am sure that the persons that advise about creating strict writing habits and goals have really different elements to their personality than I do. And that is ok. That just means that we all need to take each other’s advice with a grain of salt and trust our own intuition to know what’s right for us.
Now, if you DO have something to say and are avoiding writing that’s a different story, and a different post. I’ll nail that rant when the spirit moves me.
* * * * *
Curious about personality tests? Me, too! I love taking the tests and feeling understood and not totally off-the-wall when I read my profile. And reading the other profiles and guessing the personality types of family, friends and colleagues. No, it’s not a fool-proof science. (What science is fool-proof?) But it is fun and useful. It really drives home the point that we all see the world through different lenses.
I like the Myers-Briggs personality model as interpreted by 16personalities.com. I’m an INFP or the “Mediator.” The image above is my INFP spirit. Isn’t she so Zen?
As a freelance writer, editor and creativity coach, I often hear from clients that it’s hard to get started writing. Yes! It’s a real thing. You’re not alone.
Like a car that’s been covered up with a tarp in the garage, the writing muse takes some gentle, patient handling to get her engine humming. She needs some romancing, friends!
My new favorite writing warm-up is poetry.
I forgot how much I love to write free verse. Seriously, when was the last time that you riffed and just wrote words on a page to express yourself? No punctuation or grammar worries. No concerns about whether you’re making sense.
Just thought and feeling to paper.
For fun, I’m going to write a little live poetry here in this blog post.
I’ll start with what’s rattling around in my consciousness…sweetness I just saw on Facebook. One post of a high school friend with his son. They are wearing matching newsboy style caps and huge smiles. The other is a video of a friend’s son. He is wishing his mom Happy Birthday while sporting an upside down, baby blue mustache. Seeing these posts has my familial heart strings humming.
Hand to hand like magnets
That impossibly soft little hand
Heart in a smile, pure love
Eyes seeing a sweet and simple world
“Bad news” is time for bed or stop playing and wash your hands
If I could save time in a bottle, Jim Croce sang
Why didn’t I know that he was singing about you?
Next time you’re stopped or stuck, consider writing a little poetry to get you grooving. You may find it very liberating.
I’ll get right to the point; too many long sentences in a row make my brain hurt. And I’m not alone. It’s a human thing.
You like your audience, right? You want them to stick with you as you lay out your message, your points, your life’s work? Then it behooves you to make reading easy.
Here’s one good way: Mix in short sentences to give variety and texture. By doing so, you create a more sustainable pace for your audience.
Listen, I’m a big fan of writing as if you were talking, but that assumes that you engage in conversation in a way that includes pauses and breaths.
Imagine that you’re at a cocktail party. You meet a nice enough stranger and begin a conversation.
They are so excited to say what they are saying that they keep talking and they never stop and at first you’re engaged but then you fall into a trance of sorts and oh-my-goodness why can’t you stop yawning and you wonder if someone slipped something into your drink and at some point you’ve stopped listening altogether because you are now distracted and focusing on how in the world they can keep talking for that long without breathing and you wonder if they are ever going to stop and you’re looking for an excuse, an escape and trying to find that friend that came with you to the party and they are nowhere in sight…
Short sentences allow you and your audience to pause and breathe.
Let’s take a look at some fine writing from author Tom Robbins in Jitterbug Perfume. Below is the longest paragraph in the first chapter. Of the fourteen sentences, just about half are 10 words or less.
The secondary function of a bathroom mirror is to measure murmurs in mental mud. Priscilla glanced at her “seismograph” and disliked the reading. She was as pallid as a Q-tip and as ready to unravel. Dropping the soap in the sink, she imposed a smile on her reflection. With a sudsy finger she pushed at the triangular tip of her crisp little corn chip of a nose. She winked each eye. Her eyes were equally enormous, equally violet, but the left eye winked smoothly while the right required effort and a scrunching of flesh. She tugged at her wet autumn-colored hair as if she were stopping a trolley. “You’re still cute as a button,” she told herself. “Of course, I’ve never seen a-cute button, but who am I to argue with the wisdom of the ages?” She puckered her bubble gum mouth until its exaggerated sensuality drew attention away from the blood-blue crescents beneath her eyes. “My bags may be packed, but I haven’t left town. No wonder Ricki finds me irresistible. She’s only human.”
Okay, that’s fine for fiction, you say, but how about non-fiction writing? Yep, works there too. Below is an excerpt from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Notice the length of the sentences and how they alternate between short, really short and longer.
Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be. If you believe in God (and I do) you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius. Genius is a Latin word; the Romans used it to denote an inner spirit, holy and inviolable, which watches over us, guiding us to our calling. A writer writes with his genius; an artist paints with hers; everyone who creates operates from this sacramental center. It is our soul’s seat, the vessel that holds our being-in-potential, our star’s beacon and Polaris.
We all have different styles of speaking and writing. I’m not suggesting that you adopt my casual style or that of Robbins or Pressfield or anyone else for that matter. Instead, I invite you to find the places in your writing where the sentences are a little long, where it’s gotten a little dense and see how it reads when you break up that sentence into smaller chunks. Or introduce a short snippet in the middle.
Give it a try and let me know how it goes!
If you’re feeling on the fence about how to do it, send me a paragraph with long sentences and I’ll send back a suggested edit. On me.
I fell in love in September. I didn’t think it could happen again. But it did.
It’s a little complicated because, you see, I’m in love with three people. Two women and a man. And they live in a fictional town called Pawnee, Indiana, where they run the Parks & Recreation department.
Yes, I am ridiculous. And so are Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) and April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza). And it’s their eccentricity – literally how far off center they are – that makes me love them. Leslie with her Type A, waffle and whipped cream fueled plans. Ron’s clinging to a simpler frontiersman time. And April’s dark and brooding demeanor, guarding her heart of gold.
(Never seen Parks & Rec? Stop what you are doing immediately and invest some time in this modern masterpiece.)
The vibrancy of their characters is beautiful. They are full out who they are. It’s so attractive. And being this way, yes, even though they are fictional, they whisper a secret invitation for us to be fully our own versions of eccentric.
So let’s talk real world. What is it that makes us so afraid of being a little off center? So afraid that we won’t be accepted by the masses who run together in the safety of the herd? I have some ideas.
This week, in two different corners of my life, two extraordinarily talented and creative people told me that their insecurities are sneaking up on them. They are feeling restricted and vulnerable to a perceived (or even real) raised eyebrow from those who are on the straight and narrow.
Pull out the soapbox. Here comes the speech.
Life is about coming back to who you really are. The essence of yourself before you cared about what other people thought. When your imagination and inspiration guided you. Before you felt the sting of being left out, when you weren’t even sure that you even wanted to be included with those kids. When having SOMEONE to play with was way better than sitting alone in the schoolyard.
Please tell me that you didn’t have this experience growing up. That you weren’t the person on the sidelines. And if you were, that you didn’t care. That you were happy playing alone, doing your own thing. That being left out, left behind didn’t feel like a message screaming, “You don’t matter.” I would love to hear these stories from a writer, an artist, a creative soul. Because that sounds like just the kind of childhood experience that I hope everyone could have.
But it doesn’t always work out this way. And that’s what adulthood is for.
I’m here to tell you now that it’s okay to be off center. Like Leslie, Ron and April, being colorful and fully yourself is attractive and exciting and alive! That magic lives on the fringes. That the world NEEDS you to be unabashedly bold. That worlds are created from this place.
Be yourself – the more eccentric, the better. Seriously. You are not alone and your colors are so damn beautiful.
Here’s a tip: To make your writing more impactful, it would behoove you to spell out your point with clear and simple language towards the very beginning of your piece. People don’t read; they scan. And it’s unlikely that they’ll scan beyond your first paragraph or two if they don’t know where you are going.
Here’s how: Reread your work, hunting for the paragraph or maybe even the single sentence that sums up your writing piece in a nutshell. Grab that gem and move it to the top of your piece.
Think of the fundamental structure for stand-and-deliver presentations: tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. By giving your audience a roadmap, they can relax with the confidence that you know where you are going – and they do, too. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing them, boring them or annoying them. By the way, this structure was created by Aristotle and has been working like a charm ever since 300 and something B.C., for goodness sake.
In Journalism 101 terms, you’re creating and elevating the “nut graph” to the top of your story.
Why not just sit down and write a “nut graph”? You can do this, of course. In my experience, the essence of what you’re saying will come out naturally when you sit down to write the full piece. As an editor, almost 100% of the time I find the nut graph in the middle of a client’s writing. Why? Because the writer is warmed up and flowing when they get to the middle, and what they really want to say just pops out naturally.
Give it a try and see what happens! It may take some practice to find the gem and to learn how to massage it into the beginning of your piece. But nothing that you can’t handle.
Hit me up if you want to talk through it. I’m happy to share more.
I’m sharing with you a new post from my creative blog Your Goodness Guide. Friends don’t let friends clean the house to avoid writing.
I’m a big fan of a clean house. Especially when it’s my own. But sometimes having a clean house is out of reach. Like when…I still haven’t recovered from the 7-year-old birthday party at the house last weekend…or our living room is a staging area for the garage sale on Saturday…or, frankly, we just can’t extract any extra energy to clean the house ourselves or hire someone to clean for us.
And during those times, a panic sets in. My chest tightens. My breathing shallows. Until I take these two magic steps.
#1 – Turn Home into Workshop – Changing my perspective on “Home” works wonders. Instead of a showplace that SHOULD be neat and orderly like the staged photos in Home Magazine, I magically turn my living space into a “Workshop” IN MY MIND. Oh, a workshop! Yes, workshops can be messy. They can be a little disorderly. Because work is happening there. It’s creativity in motion. It’s dynamic! I can find a new boundary of acceptable disorder when I’m living in a workshop. No, not complete chaos. Not dirtiness that invites critters into my home. But not sanitized and wrapped up in a bow, either.
#2 – Make Plans for a Friend to Visit – Nothing helps me pull the house together more quickly than hosting company. And when the house is pulled together that quickly, my mind-body-spirit are reminded that regardless of how messy the house appears on any given day, it’s only 3 hours away from near showplace neatness.
There’s an invisible third magic step: Gratitude. Feeling grateful that I have a home to fill, that I have an address for USPS to deliver mail that will inevitably pile up, and that I have beautiful children who fill the house with their stuff, too. Whether it’s a showplace or a workshop or whatever, focusing on gratitude instantly quells the anxiety over dust bunnies and stacks of paper.
…then you know it’s the truth. Just start writing something. I like to start with a prayer or an intention for my writing. By typing this short wish, the cobwebs start clearing, the blood starts flowing and my writing muse recognizes that my mind and spirit are – again – friendly places to visit.
I don’t curse. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I was a Girl Scout at 10 years old and am still wearing the badges (on the inside). And that’s why I am qualified to say, “Sometimes you just have to write with a little FU in you.”
It’s not always good to be so good.
There’s this teeny little pattern called People Pleasing. Heaven knows it’s hard to shake. Not wanting to ruffle feathers. Wanting everyone to be happy and included. Wanting to be liked and loved. Striving for your writing to be valued and of importance. It’s a great big ball of stress, insecurity and fear.
For a writer, People Pleasing is debilitating. I’d dare say it’s the #1 reason that we get stuck. Here’s the hard truth: You are not going to please everyone. But, I’ll be darned if you don’t please at least SOMEONE with your writing: YOU.
Yes, writing for your audience is important. Yes, editing and paring down your work is essential. None of this matters if your pipes get clogged and you get stuck in the muck.
Why come from a place of FU? Accessing a little anger can help break through to higher emotions like contentment and joy — anger is a higher vibrating emotion than fear or insecurity. I’m not suggesting that you stay angry. Use it to break through. (Check out this Emotional Guidance Scale for some incredible details.)
This is your writing. This is your life. So, put a little chutzpah in your step. And forget about the world for a moment. Forget that anyone else exists. Lie down and put your legs up the wall. Go for a walk somewhere you’ve never been, barefoot. Then just write. Forget about trying to make it sound profound. Forget about whether it’s publishable. Write to bare your soul and share your mind. Write to hear the music of the syllables strung together. Write like you are a child, too young to care what people think. That’s where the magic lives.