Of all human activities, writing is the one for which it is easiest to find excuses not to begin – the desk’s too big, the desk’s too small, there’s too much noise, there’s too much quiet, it’s too hot, too cold, too early, too late. I had learned over the years to ignore them all, and simply to start.” ― Robert Harris
1. Use strong verbs. This isn't groundbreaking advice. Replace "to be" verbs, got, and put wherever possible with stronger verbs. "She was walking over the leaves" becomes "She walked over the leaves." "I got a new car" becomes "I bought a new car" or "I stole a new car" or "I acquired a new car."
2. Eliminate adverbs. Again, not groundbreaking advice, but please do heed it. If you have a strong and concise verb, you don't need an adverb. This doesn't mean that you have to develop an allergy to adverbs, just use them when you are at a loss for anything better. "I walked gently over the leaves" becomes "I minced over the leaves" or "I tiptoed over the leaves."
3. Don't editorialize. Just tell the story. If you find yourself ending a paragraph with your general opinion about what you've just written, cut it. (Click on Read More below)
5. Axe cliches. Identify cliches in your writing and eliminate them when you can. Try to offer the same sentiment using your original words. If the cliche is in dialogue, it's more forgivable, but not by much (depending on the character--some characters do speak in cliches). There's a cliche in writing that cliches have to be "earned." If your writing is spectacular and the Pulitzer Prize committee won't stop calling, then sure, drop in a few cliches.
6. Keep your POV (point of view) consistent. If you start with "I" don't lapse into "you."
7. Keep your tense consistent. If you start in the past tense, don't lapse into the present tense.
8. Can you cut a word in a sentence and still maintain the sentence's integrity? Cut and compress where you can.
9. Try to axe some gerunds. Gerunds are verbs ending in --ing. Often, they are preceded by a to be verb. Cut the to be verb, remove the --ing, and add --ed to the word (if you're writing in the past tense). "I was riding my bicycle down the street" becomes "I rode my bicycle down the street." Of course, this only works if what comes after the sentence still makes sense after you make the change.
You don't write because you want to say something: You write because you've got something to say.” -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- TO BE VERBS, GOT & PUT
- 5 SENSES
- WORDS YOU CAN CUT (but may want to keep for characterization/voice/diction)
When you do this with your own work, it gives you a visual map of your prose's strengths and weaknesses and will help you revise on the sentence level.
I prop myself up on one elbow. There’s enough light in the bedroom to see them. My little sister, Prim, curled up on her side, cocooned in my mother’s body, their cheeks pressed together. In sleep, my mother looks younger, still worn but not so beaten-down. Prim’s face is as fresh as a raindrop, as lovely as the primrose for which she was named. My mother was very beautiful once, too. Or so they tell me.
Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the colour of rotting squash. Prim named him Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out OK. My mother got rid of the vermin and he’s a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.