Why be concise when you can be creative?

Eleanor Meecham | September 2, 2014

My partner gave up his job as a librarian a couple of years ago to do what he’d always dreamed of: review music and write about bands he loves. He’s a man with plenty of ideas, and the words simply poured out of him. I came home many evenings to find the 500-word review he’d been working on had turned into a 3000-word monster. It was my job to help him chop it down.

Image, fingers typing quickly on a keyboard.

The words simply poured out of him. Image by Adikos / CC BY

Now, his writing is wonderfully original, and I can never fault his facts, logic, or strength of enthusiasm. But, in those early days of inspiration and creativity, he was clearly writing as much for himself as for his readers.

I pointed out that few people want to read a 4-page essay online. I pointed out that a short article could be just as descriptive and eloquent as a long one. I pointed out that he’d been given a word count for a reason.

But once the words were written he became attached to each one, and getting him to part with any was hard work. We had some tense evenings. Harsh words were spoken.

Let there be enlightenment

Fast forward to last Saturday, when he spent a morning rereading some of his early work. After some incredulous snorting, he turned to me and said, ‘Why did you let me waffle on like that? No one has time to read a 4-page review! And what’s up with all those adjectives?’

Help yourself to help your readers

Most writers who look back at their early work can see where they went wrong. The difficult thing is understanding what’s working better now, and keeping at it. Here’s four simple things I tried to teach my partner, that he eventually came to realise made sense.

1. Spend time away from your writing

Even a day or two can give you fresh perspective and help you see where the problems are.

2. Always think about who you’re writing for

Will your readers really read every word? Maybe not. Focus on giving them what they’re looking for.

3. Use as many words as you need to, but not more

It’s tempting to add in long or unusual words to make your writing sound clever or important. Actually, you sound smarter when you write in a way people can understand.

4. Seek constructive feedback

A fresh set of eyes can help identify holes, repetition, and waffle. Accepting feedback can be difficult at first, but you’re in good company — even Booker Prize winners can’t avoid this step.

Anyone can learn to write well. It takes time, practice, and humility. Good luck.

Insights, tips, and professional development opportunities.