Home > Work-related, Writing and Poetry > Whether to Diet or Not

Whether to Diet or Not


What do dieting and writing have in common? They often travel together—and should. In writing, to diet means to determine what words, phrases, and extraneous content need to go. They represent the unwanted pounds that weigh down a manuscript.

Revision gives the writer an opportunity to go through her copy to tighten her sentences and rephrase passages for the most effective copy possible. According to best-selling author Roy Peter Clark, “…The concrete noun lets us see and the action verb helps us move. Experts on writing have always preferred strong nouns and verbs.”

For several years, writers have been urged to “trim the fat” of extraneous adverbs and adjectives. We’re encouraged to use lean, mean story construction for readers’ pleasure, while holding and expanding that pleasure with the ebb and flow of concrete detail and curiosity-generating abstract thought.

Purpose-driven writing takes time to conceive and deliver. Those in the writing business today have many recommendations for writers about their content. For instance, web content has specific parameters for the writer; length should run within 250-500 words, snappy headline titles grab a reader’s interest; copy should have plenty of pertinent links to other sites for more information.

When you stop to consider that readers of web content are, in general, looking for particular subjects, research material, etc., the standards derived are necessary and make sense. Keywords used within the copy help snag attention from search engines, while the organization of the copy finishes drawing in those engines.

Novels and magazines don’t have search engines, but searches are made. Readers talk to each other. The discoveries of one become shared knowledge and generate recommendations to other readers. Therefore, the same logic applies to novels.

Interest and reader staying-power is forfeited, if detailed descriptions bog down the reader’s quest to move with the story line. With non-fiction, writing rules for fiction can prevent an article from boring the reader to death. Poetry, too, uses some of fiction’s rules to keep the reader motivated and moving forward to the end.

The diet begins when the first draft is complete. Experienced writers know that by the time the first revision is finished, their stories have passed one hurdle of the editing process. Entire swathes of descriptive narrative lay on the editing floor. Subtext paths that went nowhere are removed. Most of all, the concrete feel of the piece has come to the foreground.

Parts and pieces of story line, description, character backstory, etc. have bitten the bullet, dying as they lived; in that brief twilight second from the writer’s hand.

With the second revision, more noun changes with precise action verbs bring paragraphs to attention. The few remaining adjectives are traded out for more specific/colorful ones; carmine or vermillion for red, languid for weak, painful for unpleasant. Using an adjective that carries a vivid mental picture and definition can move the story and define a character better than several sentences worth of description.

Each revision carves off more excess from the manuscript. Creating a sentence, a passage, or a chapter that lives and breathes on its own can move the reader faster and farther than any other technique of the craft. Vivid action and precise description can also help the writer to see her work more clearly.

Taking off those last few pounds requires an extra effort. Once the writer has her manuscript polished to a point where it can go to the publisher, she still has at least one, if not more, revisions to go. Her editor will point out passages or chapters that need tweaking. A character’s sub-story might need a fix to ensure continuity. The editor sees, reads, and recommends changes from a professional’s perspective.

The writer’s manuscript gets on the treadmill to walk off literary calories. The tweaks become more precise. Each detail must work on several levels of description and meaning. Syntax, semantics, and overall rhythm must have balance.

The result is a manuscript, regardless of genre, that feels finished. All questions get answered. All answers flow logically. All characters have played for the audience and heard “Encore!” from the reader.

Web content doesn’t get to slide either. If reader’s don’t like the content or the presentation, they won’t keep reading. “Hits” drop and readers unsubscribe to the site. Editing is crucial, though tiny flaws will erupt occasionally. The simple effect of fast turnaround on material affects how flawed an editing job is. Poor grammar, punctuation, and organization can kill a site’s effectiveness.

For writers, dieting is always part of the day and the manuscript. Without it no one would read anyone’s work for long. Since it’s necessary, we might as well embrace its necessity and make it our best friend.


  1. March 17, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    wonderful article 🙂

    • claudsy
      March 17, 2012 at 11:54 pm

      Oh, thank you so much. Glad you liked it.


  2. March 19, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Loved this:
    Entire swathes of descriptive narrative lay on the editing floor. Subtext paths that went nowhere are removed. Most of all, the concrete feel of the piece has come to the foreground.

    A perfect description of what happens! Great post.

    • claudsy
      March 19, 2012 at 8:53 am

      Thank you, Eloise. Glad you liked it. I’m developing a taste for revision and editing. I don’t bleed any longer when I have to cut an especially good line, paragraph, or more.

      Yesterday I dumped an entire four pages without a whimper. I must be getting immune to the “Hold onto it” syndrome.


      • March 19, 2012 at 10:00 am

        I agree. I’ve also gotten used to my own red ink. I can now leave loads on the editing floor. The finished product can end up being more changes than original. But that’s ok. I’ve also stopped hanging on to numerous versions of things, having gotten honest with myself about the fact that I’ll never look at them again.

      • claudsy
        March 19, 2012 at 12:08 pm

        It sure takes long enough to get to that point, doesn’t it?

  3. March 19, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    Perfectly relevant and well-written, Clauds. I need to hear this: revise. I shall benefit from taking this bit on I think. Thank you!

    • claudsy
      March 19, 2012 at 11:12 pm

      Thanks, Hannah. The bane or the salvation of the writer. We get to choose how to approach it. Aren’t we lucky?

      • March 20, 2012 at 7:55 pm

        Yes, I think we are. Sort of like the glass half full or half empty, right? It’s all in the way we choose to perceive it. 🙂

      • claudsy
        March 20, 2012 at 11:49 pm

        When you make peace with it, Hannah, I think you come to a point where the glass is always at least half full. Perception is all we have to define our reality. Amazing, isn’t it.

      • March 21, 2012 at 8:13 am

        Really is. Good thoughts for today, thanks, Clauds. 🙂

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