Tag Archives: How to Write Short

A few words about editing…

One of my writing Bibles ( and I’m not being sacrilegious here) is a book titled HOW TO WRITE SHORT  – Word Craft For Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark. I’ve mentioned this book before in blogs, but I was re-reading it today and  few key phrases jumped out at me.

I’m currently writing my newest book, and editing the one that came before it. I’ve noticed – as has my editor – that I have a distinctive writing style that sometimes goes on a little longer than necessary. Especially when I say the same thing several ways.

Here’s an example. Moira’s breath quickened, deepened in intensity, the speed of the breaths faster with each inhalation and then exhalation.

Now, aside from being a perfectly AWFUL sentence, I told you the same damn thing three times! Okay, we get it. Moira was breathing fast. I could have just said it like that. Moira was breathing fast. But that sentence has no punch, no pop, no…  Oh, dear, God, I’m doing it again!

Clark writes, “The best place for an important word in a short passage is at the end.” The italics are his.

So, rewriting the above wordy sentence into something shorter, I could have said, Moira was breathing fast. But using Clark’s notion to put the important word last, fast just doesn’t do it for me. Finding words to describe the fast breathing is the next step.  Quickened, accelerated, sped-up are a few ways to describe it. If I resort to the deadly “LY” words, I could say, speedily, rapidly, hastily quickly, swiftly.  So, which word works best for what I want to convey? Maybe none of them. Maybe I need to write a descriptive phrase to indicate what I want to say. But if I do that, I will be assured to over-word my sentence again.

Egads! I hate editing.

Sometimes your first gut instinct is the best way to go, so reworking the tense just a hair, I wrote this: Excitement rolled through her and Moira’s breathing quickened.

Not a bad sentence. Not pulitzer prize winning, but a much better conveyance of what I wanted, than  Moira was breathing fast. A total of 8 words instead of the original  18.

Now, onward to the other 90,000 words that need to be edited…

Tedium…the definition of editing!



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Two Masters, One Passion

My chapter of the Romance Writers Of America group is having a week long challenge on what I call “get the butts in the seats and write.” Every day we are encouraged to record our writing time in minutes and then submit them at the end of the day for a chapter and individual total. Published writer and NHRWA member Lisa Olech,  author of Picture Me Naked  is our motivator and head minute counter. This is the second summer I’ve participated in this challenge and I love it. It really inspires me to find time every day to write – anything and everything.

My actual challenge with this particular writing prompt  is in the finding of spare time on the days I must go to my paying job. I’ve blogged about this time management issue for me before, but I can give actual numbers to the situation with this challenge.

This week, on  three consecutive days, these were my totals : 150 minutes, 675 minutes, 180 minutes. Can you tell which day I didn’t work at my paying job?

This inconsistency has limited me in the amount of pages I can produce on a consistent basis and it can be frustrating. But I think I’ve found a very small light at the end of my tunnel. Because I can’t write the volume I want to write on a predictable time table, what I do write must  be almost perfect the first time around. This time constraint forces me to write tight, write short, and write concise, three things every Editor wants their writers to do on a routine basis. This means that every word must count toward something valid in the scene I’m writing.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve spent this summer re-reading some of the manuals I feel have helped me be a better writer. One of those books is  How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark. His thoughts and ideas on how to take paragraphs that are filled with superfluous words  and shorten them down to the bare bones of sentences that convey the entire thought wanted, are priceless jewels for writers and is well worth the read.

I’ve used these writing short principles in my daily life as well as my writing life. I teach for a living – no, I’m not standing up in front of a classroom inspiring young minds. As part of my nursing/contact lens job I teach patients daily how to keep their eyes healthy and I instruct them in  the proper care, wear, and cleaning of their ocular devices. I only get so much time per patient, so my instructional style has to be short, concise, and totally explanatory without needing to repeat, reiterate or revise what I’ve said in order for the patient to comprehend it without any confusion. For someone who likes to Tawk as much as I do, this has proven difficult in the past. Not any longer, thanks to Mr. Clark’s instructions.

Today I am not at my paying job but at home, typing away on the laptop. Today I will be able to devote many hours to my  writing passion. The writing loft door is closed, the cellphone is on silent and I’ve disabled all my other social media for a while. It’s my time to write.

Today I hope to set a personal writing record for the challenge. We’ll see….

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Filed under Characters, Editors