Hope everyone is doing well this lazy Sunday afternoon. Here in the NW FL Panhandle, we are getting a good soaking from Tropical Storm Cristobal, but not too alarmed about her doing much harm, at least not in our neck of the woods.
I have been continuing to write a great deal as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. I’ve been among those fortunate enough to continue working from home and I’m so thankful for that. A major benefit of the down time has been the opportunity to get several of my short stories posted to my online account with Amazon’s KDP.
As a side benefit of the extra time at home, I’ve been reading back through some of my older stories (say from a decade ago, or even two in some cases) and evaluating their content from my current writing perspective.
Some of the takeaways from the time spent are described below. With effort, some of our most stubborn bad habits can be improved over time.
- Short words are usually better than longer ones. I know I know, it’s kind of fun to try out that word we just learned because we just love the way it rolls off the pen. By all means. But we always need to be aware of our reader and perhaps dip into the deep well of loquaciousness only once in a great while.
- Short sentences are usually better than longer ones. Some of mine droned on much too long. In my last post Icebergs (link below), I outlined how whittling down your writing to the bare minimum is a practice in brevity we can all stand to impose on ourselves. Whether as a writing exercise, or just as a way of keeping our content crisp, deleting or crossing through can be cathartic and energizing. It’s amazing how many words we discover are just not necessary when we are forced to prune our word garden down to the barest essentials (that whole last sentence could be stricken).
- Short paragraphs are usually better than long ones. It’s easy to get carried away in the moment, when the ideas are sprouting forth like new buds on the creeping vine. On and on we go. Before we know it, we have thirteen sentences all sitting snugly together in an unbroken block of intimidating text. Readers’ eyes are looking for visual breathing room moment by moment. Short paragraphs of perhaps 3-7 sentences can lend the needed space. Easier on the eye than great swaths of continuous text (“much like you see here,” he said, sarcastically).
- If you truly are a writer, parting ways with beauty should not scare you. What does that mean? Simply that, no matter how lovely your last sentence, your last paragraph, or even your last chapter may be, you should be unafraid to delete it decisively, knowing with conviction that it’s not the last beautiful thing you will ever write. Not by a long shot. Edit with impunity.
- How much time you invest in your writing may have little to do with how good your story is. If you are not investing time, effort, and possibly money in your pursuit of improving your writing, you may ultimately become frustrated by the fact that you keep hitting the same brick wall. If such is the case, ask yourself why, then chase down the remedy with conviction.
Hope that helps. Probably none of it is anything you haven’t heard a dozen times before. But seeing such pointers yet again may help them stick even better in your writing head. Don’t fall so deeply in love with words on the page if they lend little to the purpose of your story. How essential are they? What do they contribute to the setting, the theme, the plot, the forward movement? If the answer is “Nothing, but they’re so pretty,” chase them away with the backspace key. Your reader will thank you.
Writing Exercise: Open up one of your previous stories in your favorite writing software. Beginning with some logical starting point, scroll down and highlight approximately 1000 words. Copy and paste this section somewhere else where you can work on it. Challenge yourself to whittle it down to 750 words. Is it better? Is the essential meaning still there? Do you like the result? Now cut down what’s left to just 500 words. Is it still good? If so, you have just learned a valuable lesson about your own writing. Tighten it up!
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