How to Excise Awkward from Your Writing

I’m a fairly awkward person, and so are most of my first drafts. While I’m technically saying what I mean, my execution feels… off. But when I’m confident that the ideas undergirding the prose are solid, then it’s time for me to look at the writing itself, word by word, and excise what doesn’t feel right with a scalpel blade. Going through an entire piece that way is exhausting, but it can help polish your words and make them shine.

scalpel

Try these tricks to locate the awkward or out-of-tune bits that are sabotaging your ideas.

  • Find compound phrases and figure out if the words in them belong together. Recently I ran across a sentence in a business document that said, “Make sure you join us at this event, and root on your favorite team!” What’s rooting on? Do people root on? No. People cheer on, or they root for, or they cheer for, but they don’t root on. “Root on” needs to change.
  • Color stuff purple. “Purple prose” isn’t exactly complimentary, and is draped with overly dramatic verbs, littered with excessively unnecessary adverbs, padded with fluffy, useless adjectives, and patience-trying, with egregious, maudlin sentences that are obviously far too long. Color them purple, and then re-evaluate. If you see a lot of purple prose when you’re finished, it’s time to make some changes.
  • The wince test. Strike stuff that makes you less than pleased , even if you don’t know exactly why. As an example, here’s my first draft of the intro paragraph, struck through using the wince test.

I’m a fairly awkward person, and the first draft of my writing is no exception so are most of my first drafts. While I’m technically saying what it is I set out to say I mean, the my execution sometimes feels… off. Inarticulate and convoluted. But when I’m confident that the underlying ideas behind undergirding the writing prose are solid, then it’s time for me to look at the writing itself, word by word, and excise whatever doesn’t feel right with a scalpel blade. Going through an entire piece that way is exhausting, but it can help polish your words and make them work together in harmony shine.

  • Read stuff out loud. Consider recording your voice, and listen for when you falter, stumble or trip up. If you know those words well, and can’t make them flow, they could use some rewriting.