Cutting The Flab from Your Writing

When I ran across a quote by Hilaire Belloc last night, it set me to thinking about what I write much of the time. Here’s the quote:

Writing itself is a bad enough trade, rightly held up to ridicule and contempt by the greater part of mankind, and especially by those who do real work, plowing, riding, sailing — or even walking about. It is a sound instinct in men to feel this distrust and contempt for writing; and as for writing about writing, why it is writing squared; it is writing to the second power, in which the original evil is concentrated… There is even, I am told, a third degree of horror. Writing about what other people have written about writing: “Lives of the Critics,” “Good English,” “Essays on Sainte Beuve” — things of that sort. Good Lord deliver us.”

While I hesitate to disagree with a writer of the stature of Hilaire Belloc (he has been described as “the man who wrote a library,” producing voluminous amounts poetry, books, essays, letters, pamphlets–filling over 150 volumes), nevertheless I do take an opposing view. I enjoy writing about what other people have written about writing, even if puts me into the third degree of horror category. I enjoy writing about what has been written before, even it’s not something newly written.

Here’s an example from The Basics of Writing for Magazines (published in November 1998 — proving that I never throw away good writing advice). In that publication, Jack Hart, a managing editor of the Oregonian and a nationally known writing coach, presented “25 Ways to Supercharge Your Manuscript.” Hart offered this advice about cutting the flab from your writing:

Paula LaRocque, writing coach at The Dallas Morning News, says anything that doesn’t add to a piece of writing takes away. Unnecessary words deflate impact by padding the active, precise vocabulary that carries core meaning.

Some flab invariably creeps into first drafts. So rewriting should focus on cutting anything superfluous. The simplest technique is still the best. Work your way through the draft, eliminating each word mentally. If you can remove a word in your imagination without doing great harm, remove it from the draft.”

Also consider the words of the late Paul Friggens, a former roving editor of Reader’s Digest who conducted seminars and workshops on writing at colleges around the country. Here he was writing about revisions and rewrites in The Complete Guide to Writing Non-Fiction:

Some, in fact, most serious writers go over their work with great care. They weigh every paragraph, every sentence, often every phrase with a view to improving their first, second, and subsequent drafts. Many would be surprised to learn that professionals revise and rewrite over and over to achieve the result they’re after. It’s easy when you’re just starting out to be so smitten with your precious prose that you’re blind to its abuse or misuse. And you’re so happy to have completed an article that little or no thought is given to such mundane matters as length and pace or even readability.”

Paying attention to advice like that may help me make my manuscripts more acceptable to editors. And if writing about it helps me, and other freelancers, profit from the advice and become more successful, it bothers me not a whit to be included in the third degree of horror category. It’s one reason this blog exists.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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