For the first, oh, decade or so of my writing career, I thought my writing was pretty good. So I didn’t understand why magazine editors found it necessary to take my perfectly serviceable sentences and render them “less interesting.” That is, until I realized, the editors were showcasing how to upgrade my writing using a writing hack or two.
Writing hack #1: Look for belabored beginnings
I liked to sound as though I were a pondering sort of person. As a result, I tended to start my sentences with something like:
There’s just something about our current suspended lives that makes me melancholy.
Editors would change that to read:
Our current suspended lives make me melancholy.
Suddenly my sentence went from twelve words to seven. And it’s so…direct. Eventually I realized that I wasn’t sounding like I pondered but like I was ponderous.
I clogged up my writing with sentences such as this:
It is fair to say that the upcoming presidential debates will draw a large viewership.
How about I switch out that “it is” and shorten the sentence in the process?
The upcoming presidential debates will draw a large viewership.
The sentence reduces down from fifteen words to nine. And it conveys more energy.
Writing hack #3: Replace passive verbs with unexpected verbs
What if I rewrote the sentence this way:
No doubt the upcoming presidential debates will snag a large viewership.
Okay, now we’ve put the sentence on a diet and given it a makeover.
Writing hack #4: Use your word processing program’s search feature
Until your brain learns to switch on a red light every time you commit writing a needlessly ponderous sentence, here’s a trick. You can utilize Word’s search feature to find some of the offending sentences for you.
- there are
- there is
- it is
And, yes, most sentences beginning with “there are,” “there is,” and “it is” can readily benefit from a diet.
We don’t often stumble onto such straightforward ways to cleanup our writing. Especially considering you can ask your computer to do the looking for you.
By the way, I have to confess that I almost started this section with this sentence:
It isn’t often we stumble onto…
Yup, I can now mumble to myself, “Physician, heal thyself.”
In what ways are you prone to writing belabored sentences? Raise your hand if you identify with being a “there are,” “it is” kind of writer, like me.
4 easy hacks to clean up your muddy writing. Click to tweet.
4 ways to write with more verve and clarity. Click to tweet.