How to shorten copy that’s too long

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and posts to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about how to shorten copy that’s too long…..

Do you habitually write too long? My problem is usually the reverse — I often write too short, which creates its own set of frustrating challenges.

But I’ve found most people have the opposite problem — they write too many words. I offer some advice for this conundrum in a post on the topic, under the headline, “How to write more concisely.”

And, recently, I discovered a terrific post on Jane Friedman’s blog, by Leslie Vedder (@leslievedder). Her topic? “3 Tips for Cutting Your Word Count (Without Giving Your Whole Story the Ax)

The tip I found the most useful was one related to cutting sentences, although, of course it will work only for long pieces of writing (as in books, most of which hit the 70,000-word range).

Vedder advised: Remove one word from every sentence or paragraph. Here’s what she said about the idea:

Cutting thousands of words from a manuscript is daunting, however you slice it. But think for a moment about removing a single word out of every sentence in your book. An 80,000-word book could easily have upward of 7,000 sentences, and some sentences have extra fluff in them, like “a little” or “very.” Obviously, some lines of dialogue or short action sentences might be as short as they can ever get. But even if you can only cut a word from every other line, or every paragraph, it’ll add up in a hurry.

And, she continued:

[This approach] really streamlines your writing. Like pruning extra leaves or branches, sharper and tighter prose makes the details you keep stand out. And any time you cut word count, you make your book a faster read.