Is it time to tighten up your writing?

In addition to writing, I do quite a bit of editing.

Now, I’ve worked with a professional editor before, and I know for a fact they are even more skilled and anal than I. That doesn’t mean I don’t get my share of requests and documents to edit.

As I always say to anyone who might be seeking my help with writing:

“My notes on your writing are never personal. But they might be brutal.”

So, take this post with a grain of salt. Because otherwise, you will think it’s mean spirited and personal.

In this post, I’ll cover five simple tips to help you tighten up your writing (but only if you want to).

Watch Out for “That”

One of the most common issues I see in other people’s writing is the overuse of “that”. It makes me want to puke.

I think I can demonstrate this in one fell swoop.

In the following sentence, you could remove all instances of “that”, and it would read fine:

I walked to the store to buy that candy, so that I could go back to the house that I own, to get the results that I want.

I see these kinds of sentences in notable author’s books all the time!

Just go easy on “that.” It’s useful, and it’s necessary (at times), but you don’t need so many of them. Take your weighty tome and cut it down to size.

“In Order To” What?

As far as I’m concerned, “in order to” is just a pretentious way of saying “to.”

That’s right. Check your writing. 95% of the time, you don’t need to say, “in order to”. Simply replace it with “to”, and check for yourself.

Your writing will be much tighter, and less nauseating to read if it features fewer “in order to” droppings.

As any copywriter will tell you, “why use three words where one will do?”

Really, Very, Actually

I understand that we use these words in everyday conversation. And I have no issue with that whatsoever.

But if you want to tighten up your writing, go easy on “really”, “very”, “actually.”

If you want to say something is really important, you could just say it’s “critical” or “crucial.”

And that is the case with “really” and “very” in general. They shouldn’t be used to emphasize another word.

What you need is a more potent word, and you’re being plain lazy when you don’t reach for it. Let me show you.

“Really cool” becomes “compelling.” “Very tall” becomes “gigantic.” “Really amazing” becomes “incredible.” And so on.

As for “actually”, think carefully about this one. Let me pull in an example:

You can actually make money writing online.

Ditch the “actually.” This sentence doesn’t need it. It would be more powerful without the “actually.”

Here’s another doozie:

When you actually sing.

Okay, so are you suggesting there are times when you’re singing that you’re not actually singing? That doesn’t make sense!

Don’t use “actually” when you’re referring to something with binary outcomes. It either happened, or it didn’t. It didn’t actually happen.

To Be Or Not To Be (Not)

Again, I’m overjoyed that so many authors are hellbent on including so many filler words in their writing. What a jubilant occasion!

Have a look at this example:

We want to help our customers to become marketing savvy.

There’s nothing wrong with the first “to.” The second “to” is the problem. You don’t need it!

Take out the latter “to” from that sentence, and you will discover for yourself nothing would be missing.

Funny, that. Because “in order to” is three words where one will do, and “to” is sometimes one word where none will do!

Whether Or Not (Not)

Most of the time, “whether or not” is a waste of words. It’s less of an egregious sin than the other examples given, but if you’ve read this far, you’re probably ready for more.

The word “whether” already suggests two choices. The first choice and the other choice.

You could say…

I don’t know whether or not I would like a popsicle.

Or…

I don’t know whether I would like a popsicle.

Did the meaning still come across in the latter? Of course, it did, because you don’t need “or not” on the tail of “whether.”

Tighten Up Your Writing, Final Thoughts

You write how you write. Makes no difference to me.

Take my tips. Leave my tips. I don’t mind!

Writing is about communication. Sharing stories. Relaying emotions. Offering perspectives. Persuading. And so on.

There are many ways to skin a cat. And my way isn’t necessarily the right way.

You do you!

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From: David Andrew Wiebe
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