Good for you! Keep up the good work.
Now, are you giving the same attention to your writing? Perhaps now is a good time to put your current work in progress on the literary scale and see if it also needs to be trimmed down. In your writing, go for quality, not quantity. Using a lot of big words and flowery adjectives won’t make up for mediocre — or even bad — writing. By example, a more concise version of that sentence is: verbosity is no substitute for sound prose.
Let’s look at three easy ways to start shaping up your writing.
1. Use Fewer Words.
Don’t use two words when one will do. I like E. B. White’s advice in The Elements of Style:
“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
Fat: He is a man who
Fat: This is a subject that
Trim: This subject
Fat: In spite of the fact that
Trim: Though (or although)
Fat: bring to a conclusion
2. Use the active voice.
Although the effect may be subtle, proper use of voice can distinguish good writing from bad (or mediocre). Voice is the grammatical term that refers to the relationship of a verb to its subject. When writing a sentence that shows action, make sure it’s constructed so that your subject is performing the action, not receiving it. As a general rule, active voice is stronger than passive, so strive to be more active.
Active = Strong
Passive = Weak
(Passive) The robber was shot by the police.
(Active) Police shot the robber.
(Passive) The ball was thrown by the quarterback.
(Active) The quarterback threw a pass.
(Passive) The sofa was completely destroyed by my adorable dog, Daisy.
(Active) Daisy destroyed the sofa. (Bad dog!)
There are occasions where passive voice is the only way to go (the subject performing the action is unknown), and instances where it’s the better choice (writing mysteries). To learn more about active vs. passive voice, check out these resources:
3. Control adjectives and adverbs
Adjectives and adverbs are extremely useful parts of speech, but resist the temptation to use them as a crutch to make your writing sound (read) better. Stick to concrete nouns and strong verbs, and only modify them when necessary.
Jane stared longingly at the luscious slice of chocolate cake.
Jane was fixated on the chocolate cake.
After Bob received the phone call, he found himself frightened and confused.
The phone call left Bob terrified. (Or just confused)
Good luck with all your goals and resolutions for 2012, and please leave a comment with any additional tips you might have for shaping up your writing (not your waistline, please).