Don’t Overwrite On

By on March 11, 2014 . Category Column

As much as I encourage Widbook writers to Write On, there is a point in which you can overwrite.  Self-editing can be tricky, especially when you’re an upcoming writer desperate to prove your wit; an eager beaver with a surplus of literary charm.

I had an old journalism professor who ran his classroom like a newsroom.  In a newsroom, for example, you get fired for inaccuracies.  He couldn’t very well fire his students, but he could certainly fail them.  We quickly learned the art of fact-checking.

Similarly, he taught us to write as reporters.  You could write the most beautiful, eloquent article, but if the paper needs the space, your article literally gets the ax – chopped in half.  Get all the important info up front.  After all, your target audience is comprised of news seekers with limited time.  You should always remember your audience.  If your reader is reading on the morning train to work, he only has a few minutes and an even shorter attention span, so be concise with word choices and sentence structures.  Keep your paragraphs short and to the point.  In fact, each paragraph should be able to end the article, if that’s where the ax ends up.

Now, newspaper writing is clearly different than creative writing, but some pointers do translate.  Even in creative writing, there is a point where enough is enough.  You never want to lose your audience.  So ask yourself:

  • Who’s my audience?  What do they want to read about?
  • What point am I trying to make in this sentence?  This paragraph?  This chapter?
  • Are there redundant sections?  Is there unnecessary information I can omit?

Once you ask your questions, try this exercise:

Rewrite a paragraph where you still get the same point across, but you say it in a different way.  Whether you intend to use fewer words, I’m guessing that will come naturally.  With rewriting comes reformatting and restructuring.  Inevitably, you’ll find a more direct route from Point A to Point B.

Don’t overwrite or underwrite.  Make your words “just write” and then Write On


See Also

The Difficult Task of Being a Writer: Interview with Alex Ford, from Cambridge

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