Wordcount pruning tips!

As much as I adore super-long books, meaty blog posts, and long vlogs, that doesn’t mean absolutely everything needs to be long. A good writer, blogger, or vlogger develops into one’s own style. For me, I’ve found the sweet spot for a blog post is 600-750 words, with my average 400-850. When I do go over that, I try my hardest to keep it below 1,000.

Too many English teachers have drummed overly formal rules into us. Depending upon what kinds of books we’ve read, we can also absorb and start parroting things which aren’t so in style anymore. I see this a lot in my own older writing, things like:

1. Overuse of “that”! You really don’t need to use this word nearly as much as English teachers would have you believe. Once in awhile, you do need it to avoid sounding grammatically incorrect or awkward, but more often than not, you can axe it.

2. Absence of contractions. This just makes me want to tear my hair out! It’s one thing if you’re doing it on purpose to establish a character as extremely formal or just learning English, but most people use a lot of contractions.

3. Using more words than necessary to say something. E.g., “the phone situated on top of the table” vs. “the phone on the table.”

4. Stating something we can all infer anyway. E.g., “I shrugged my shoulders.” What else can a person shrug, the knees or ears? Or “On her feet she wore aubergine leather boots.” Where else would someone wear boots?

5. Too many adverbs! I completely disagree with people who insist no adverbs are ever necessary, but there’s a limit. Too many older books are replete with totally unnecessary adverbs which do absolutely nothing to improve the scene, and in fact sound really goofy and out of place.

6. Too much rambling on the way to getting to the damn point. I’m 100% guilty of discovering this while editing my own blog posts, and opening a lot of my oldest books with several paragraphs of infodump setting the scene and establishing characters and setting. I’ve also watched many vlogs that take 10 minutes or longer to finally get to the point.

7. Getting down into the weeds with side tangents and eddies. I did this so much on my old Angelfire page, and thankfully catch myself doing it much less now. It’s not that these passages are poorly-written or uninteresting, just that they’re not germane to the main topic. For example, while mentioning I lived at the Hillel House my senior year of university, I don’t need to tell the story of how it used to be a frat that got busted for 89 kegs of alcohol at a party, and before that was a sorority that got busted for prostitution.

8. Cluttery chat which adds nothing to either plot or character development. I don’t think absolutely everything needs to advance the plot, but that doesn’t mean I’m down with several pages of chit-chat just filling up space.

9. Overdescribing things. As much as I love writing about vintage fashions, I don’t describe them exactly head to toe. I’m sure most women of my generation well remember the detailed descriptions of Claudia’s outlandish outfits in The Babysitters’ Club. There’s also Anna Godbersen’s unnecessarily long-winded descriptions of things like pastries, staircases, tableware, and furniture.

10. Overwrought language. Victorian prose went out of fashion for a reason. Related to #9, by the time Ms. Godbersen is done describing whatever, the reader has forgotten the more important thing going on. No one likes purple prose.

11. Too many adverb+adjective pairs. If you constantly use language like “marvellously superb,” “endlessly amazing,” “endearingly timeless,” and “astonishingly pretty,” it won’t properly stand out when such a pairing really is called for.

12. Too many creative metaphors and similes. English teachers have it all wrong. You don’t need to say things like “The day went by as fast as Fluffy runs when chasing after her favorite toy mouse” or “The stars were twinkling as bright and shiny as my great-grandmother’s antique silverware when it’s on a candlelit table after a good polishing.” This is very weak writing.

 13. We’re all entitled to a few linguistic quirks in moderation! Sometimes our writing just wouldn’t feel genuine to who we are if we scrubbed it of everything other people wanted us to change. E.g., I have the somewhat British habit of using the modifier “most,” such as “most enjoyable,” “most disturbing,” “most agreeable,” and “most superb.”

14. Once you’ve expressed everything important, don’t keep rambling on! In a blog or vlog, you might want to close with, e.g., a quick mention of what next week’s is about, or a brief update on something your followers have been asking about. Just make a separate blog or vlog if there’s enough material. Rap Critic was very confused when Young Money’s “Every Girl” had another verse after the song had seemed finished. He couldn’t tell if it were an outro or another verse, since it seemed so disjointed and like an afterthought.


3 thoughts on “Wordcount pruning tips!

  1. I always like thoughts on editing. Some I have taken to heart already, and feel I may be improving, after all; others I realise I’m still stuck on. Having to trim to a word limit is good for me, and it’s much harder to do with a novel.


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