Save your readers’ valuable time by writing content that moves
Whether you write commercial fiction or non-fiction, we’re not in the book selling business, we’re in the time-buying business. Authors purchase their reader’s time in exchange for consuming the book. Time is the great equalizer. We can’t buy more. Everyone gets 24 hours, unless they die in the middle of the day.
Before I tell you the word, I’ll explain why I’m so passionate about its removal. First, it’s not this one word. This is about writing tighter overall. There are other words and I’ll cover them later.
When we write tighter we give the reader the same story she may get with the long-winded version, but you saved her time. When we write tighter, the work becomes pure. There’s no filler or fluff to make the book thicker. I am appalled with how many big-name commercial authors whose editors allow them to drone-on for dozens of pages, with exposition that could be stated in three sentences.
I realize this is not a popular opinion.
However, I write the way I like to read. I’ve got a TBR (to be read) pile the height of my house. I give the author ten minutes to grab my attention, no matter the genre. Whether it’s a fiction or non-fiction story, if you don’t sink the hook in the first ten minutes, I’ll donate your book to the thrift shop. I don’t have the time.
I don’t have this all figured out. I work every day to hone my craft — to get a little better than yesterday. But once I find these little sinister words, they’re easy to cut out during editing. You’re reader will appreciate it and your work will be cleaner.
What’s the word?
I’ll give you examples in a second, but first I’ll share why it’s sinister. There are many words we use in casual conversation which have no business in our writing. Writing is not identical to conversational language.
I believe it’s important to deliver your message as clean and simple as possible. Don’t say something in five words you can say with one. Don’t say something in ten words you can say in three.
Every word matters.
You’ll get better at this with practice. Deliberate word choice is hard when you start writing. Every sentence needs re-writing. With practice comes cleaner thinking. If you piggyback edit as you write, you won’t have much to clean-up during the editing process.
Here’s a post I wrote about the way I use mobile writing (and real-time editing)
- I understand that you want to be a good writer when you’re older.
- The fact that you’re standing in this spot means that you’re dedicated.
- I see that you like ice cream.
- We hope that you have a good time on vacation.
- She didn’t realize that the man in the window had a gun.
- I understand you want to be a good writer when you’re older.
- You’re standing in this spot. It means you’re dedicated.
- I see you like ice cream.
- We hope you have a good time on vacation.
- She didn’t realize the man in the window had a gun.
Now, these examples don’t shorten the sentences much, but the word THAT is peppered everywhere. We use it in conversation without thinking about it. And it transfers to our writing. Both good and bad examples are grammatically correct.
Although a piece of writing is grammatically correct doesn’t mean you can’t improve it.
Note: Sometimes the work requires a THAT. Don’t take find/replace to it, thinking you can remove every instance. But you can remove most uses while enhance the work simultaneously.
Here’s another post I wrote about removing amateur phrases in your work:
12 Amateur Writing Phrases You Should Avoid Today
Skip these Words So You Don’t Come Across as a Newbie
My writing is chopped and minimal. The work isn’t for everyone, but I learned through Strunk and White’s book, The Elements of Style, coupled with William Zinsser’s classic book On Writing Well — cut the writing to the bone.
When you find your THATs, you’ll find other words. Eventually, you’ll cut entire paragraphs. Tight writing is brain training.
Tight writing is distillation. It’s easier to pad your writing and over-explain a scene. Editing is art. The words that aren’t in the work are as important as the words which are (I had to use THAT in that sentence — there it is again).
Remove words until it hurts. Then, remove a few more.