Want to Keep Them Reading? Write Tight

March 12, 2020

Thought Leadership

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How to Be Merciless When You Edit

“Write drunk, edit sober” – often misattributed to Ernest Hemingway – is a phrase I love. While some believe it merely an excuse for alcoholism, I prefer not to take it so literally. To me, it means write freely and edit fiercely. It’s not easy. But it’s important work that applies to any kind of writing, from emails to newsletter articles to annual reports and beyond.

To wit:

In other words, This tactic frees you to put all of your ideas down on paper, your brilliant thoughts, observations and insights. Then you can – and should – be brutal with your editing pen. Or let someone else do the dirty work for you. In the light of day, brilliant thoughts aren’t always so brilliant. Or perhaps they’re brilliant when you write them the first time, but repetitive the second, third and fourth.

Editing also helps you readily see the often-surprising excess verbiage we all seem to love, including filler words, similar words, empty words and repetitive words and phrases and unnecessary explanations. Some other examples:

  • Safe haven. (Havens are, by definition, safe).
  • There is evidence that shows that treatment works.
  • I added a few more ideas.
  • It goes without saying that you need to clean up after yourself.
  • First, I packed my clothes and then I took an Uber to the airport.
  • Social media is an increasingly important medium to help organizations leverage to engage audiences.
  • Prior to the campaign launch, we will be holding a brown-bag session to help everyone get familiar and ask questions and learn the system. The date and time will be announced soon in the coming weeks.
  • It is very important to basically avoid fluff words because they are rather empty and sometimes a little distracting.

A tip of the hat to my colleague, Laurie Holloway, who is passionate about tight writing and provided some of the above examples.

If you’re wondering, experts aren’t quite sure where the “write drunk, edit sober” quote comes from. The earliest reference to a similar statement appears in a 1964 novel “Reuben, Reuben” by Peter DeVries, in which a character notes: “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober.” (But in the next statement then he notes that “Sometimes I write sober and edit drunk.”)

By the way, my first draft was 83 words longer. And I’m sure you could find a few more to cut.

Post by Cheryl terHorst