Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Recently, when reading up on writing advice and how to improve one's work, I happened on a quote from Mark Twain.

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very,' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."

Today editors might not delete "damn" in children's manuscripts except in books for smaller children, but the message on the lesson from Twain stays the same. To improve my writing I need to continually prune unnecessary words. Any words that I think "actually" make the point more emphatically and importantly but actually get in the way of clear action and movement of plot are only window dressing. I need to cut and clear so the story itself is emphatic.

In clearing I also need to follow Twain's reasoning a little further and keep it simple. In revisions, I need to remember to cut the scenes, dialogue and plot points that are clogging up the flow of the story.

Some methods of attacking these problems are putting aside the manuscript for a time and working on another book so I'm refreshed when I come back to this manuscript and I can edit with new eyes, or taking it to my critique group where the writers will ably point out where the problems lurk.

How do you focus on keeping it concise - the extra words that clutter, and the scenes that bog down the manuscript?


  1. I kinda cheat. After I'm done writing, I do document searches for "ly" and delete those words. But it's not something I focus on in draft.

  2. I love Mark Twain's advice of substituting "damn" for "very". And since I write YA, maybe it will improve my writing!

    I also like Martha's suggestion...don't worry about it while writing, but word search afterwards. Thanks, Martha.

  3. Like Martha, I'm a big fan of the search function. I've deleted "that" so many times my word count shrinks significantly.

  4. I think searching for "was" would help me lose words. I'm going to try it.

  5. What would we do without the word search, lol?

    I know there are definite hot words for me, anything weak like very, really, actually, etc, I try and just avoid now. It definitely (another one) challenges me to be a better writer, but never during the first draft. I really, really, really just let myself go. That's why rewriting is so much fun.

  6. I guess a good move would be "First, let's kill all the adverbs"

    Very good analysis of what needs to be done in revision.