{Between the Lines}

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4 Tips to Declutter Your Writing

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Reading sample chapters in proposals causes me to focus on every writing misstep. Too many missteps, and a potential client’s work is set aside.

When I prepare one of my client’s proposals to send to an editor, I’m also extra vigilant to cluttered writing.

Below are three writing mishaps that needlessly clutter up your writing rather than present your ideas in crisp, clear language.

Keep your eyes out for sentences that include:

There are/There is

These phrases often appear at the beginning of a sentence. Like a room filled with stacks of books on the floor, these phrases actually constitute a sentence’s needless clutter. Often such sentences can easily be rendered clutter free. Take this example:

There are several birds gathered on the telephone wire outside the farmhouse window.

Several birds gathered on the telephone wire outside the farmhouse window.

“There are” and “there is” force a sentence into using a passive verb. While passive verbs create a “quiet” feel to a sentence, they tend to suggest to the reader that taking a nap would be preferable to trudging any further through the hazy passage.

It is

Once again, “it is” tends to be the lead-in to sentences and sets those sentences up to being passive rather than active.

It is a blustery day, with leaves scurrying along as if in a rush to catch the subway.

The blustery day’s wind sent leaves scurrying along as if in a rush to catch the subway.

There’s something about…

The writer inserts this phrase to suggest leaning against a window to ponder life. But, in actuality, these words don’t add anything to a sentence.

There’s something about the aroma of coffee that snaps me awake in the morning.

The aroma of coffee snaps me awake in the morning.

Get

“Get” wins the prize for being the most generic of action verbs. You can get milk, get excited, get going, get it, etc. Whenever “get” pops up in your writing, sharpen your focus like a laser to locate a substitute. Your writing will be enlivened and clarified.

These sentences showcase how a more precise verb makes a world of difference.

As I was getting on the train, I got a sick feeling in my stomach and thought I might be getting the flu, but I think I just got nervous about the presentation I got to give to the board of administrators.

As I was boarding the train, I felt sick to my stomach and thought I might be coming down with the flu, but I think I just suffered from nervousness about the presentation I had volunteered to give to the board of administrators.

Lest you think you already know this…

So, you already know these decluttering tips? Hm-hm. And yet, these are the most common writing errors I encounter. By far. I find myself often telling a client whose proposal I’ve just decluttered, that she needs to keep an eye out for these four items of clutter.

I’ll generally hear this response, “I like to write ‘quiet.’ I think it fits my subject.” “It’s a style I’ve purposely chosen because it lends seriousness to my writing.” “Oh, I understand all about avoiding passive sentences, but sometimes passive works best.”

I, too, am a clutterer

There’s just something about these cluttering phrases that we find hard to resist. 🙂 I now recall with reddened cheeks that, even as a seasoned writer, I would receive my manuscripts back from editors with my passive sentences overhauled and all my “gets” transformed into more specific word choices. At the time, I was a bit offended. After all, I knew the rules about avoiding cluttered, passive sentences or using that bland verb “get.” I was choosing to use that language to create a certain effect.

Looking back, I now realize that, nah, I simply was willing to live with the clutter rather than clean it up. Apparently I’m not alone in that decision.

What words or phrases tempt you to clutter up a perfectly good sentence?

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Rachel Kent

Blogger: Rachel Kent

At Books & Such, we love all types of writers. But today, I’d like to tell you about two specific types. Each one has its pros and cons.

The first is The Flexible Writer.

The Flexible …

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