Monday, June 30, 2014

Writing Tight

by Andrea Merrell

In the past few weeks, we've talked about the overuse of exclamation points and quotation marks, but here’s another tip: Italicize book titles, inner dialogue, and words for emphasis, but don’t get carried away with italics.

With those basics under our belt, let’s continue to clean up our manuscripts as we talk about writing tight.

What exactly does writing tight mean?

  • Saying as much as possible in as few words as possible.
  • Conveying exactly what you mean.
  • Writing in concise, easy-to-read-and-understand terms.
  • Eliminating extraneous phrases and words (especially adverbs).

Pet Words and Phrases

Everyone has pet words and phrases that must be weeded from their manuscript. The most common are: just, really, that, then, truly, simply, slowly, gently, as if, and began to. Writers also tend to over-explain. If you’re doing a good job showing your story, don’t continue by telling it as well. That’s overkill. Be careful not to overwhelm your reader with details, unless they move the story forward. Avoid taking rabbit trails. You don’t want your reader to get lost and have to use a GPS to find the way back to your plot.

More Sage Advice

Let’s get one more piece of advice from literary agent Chip McGregor’s blog post, What Drives an Editor Crazy? 

Print out a copy of your proposal or manuscript and look it over. If the FIRST WORD of every paragraph is the same, you need to go back and change it.  (Unless the first word of every paragraph is the word “I,” in which case you need to be slapped by the person sitting next to you, THEN go back and change it.)

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is this: Anything you use over and over in your story—whether punctuation, words, phrases, descriptions, or names—wears on your reader. I once read a book and decided if the author used a certain word one more time, I would blow my brains out. Actually, I had to make myself finish the book, and I’ve never read anything else by that author.

Adopt the concept, less is more. The best way to learn to write tight is to compose a devotion or article of 500 words, then go back and cut it down to 300 words. It’s much harder than you think, but it will be time well spent as you learn to think outside the box and use your words in the best way possible.

Please leave a comment and let me know which pet words and phrases you struggle with.  

(Photos courtesy of



  1. Words that make me crazy- actually, be that as it may, as I mentioned before. Sometimes I can't break these walls down to even see what it is I am trying to say!

    1. Great point! I recently listened to the audio of a workshop I did earlier this year and could not believe how many times I repeated the same phrase. Thanks for sharing.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.


We value you and your input very much! Please don't hate us for using word verification - we like to keep spammers out. Thanks for taking the time to share your love with each other and us!