Economy of Words

Economy of Words

One of the first things uttered in a writing class I attended at university, was the importance of economy of words.

Don’t waste words, don’t use two or three words where one will do and don’t use big complicated words if a simple one does the job.

It’s easy to get carried away when writing and fill the page with unnecessary words.  It reminds me of some fellow pupils at school who would frantically fill the page of their exercise book when asked to complete tasks such as writing a brief description of a character from whichever book we were reading at the time.  In my mind ‘brief description’ meant three or four paragraphs covering the main traits of the character but seeing the amount others had written sometimes made me doubt myself; until the day when I actually read one of their pieces and realised not only could the work be condensed into three or four paragraphs without losing any of the details but the writing was also much bigger than mine so filled the page quicker.  Good trick!

The whole point of writing is to convey your ideas, story, thoughts, etc to the reader in a way that they will understand.  If you’re constantly padding out your writing with extra words the reader will soon lose interest.

Using big words in your writing can make the reader frustrated.  Imagine having to consult a dictionary every other sentence because the writer has used a big word you don’t understand.  Most of the time a simple word that is probably in most of our vocabularies will do the job as well as, if not better, than an uncommon one.

Work to a specific word count

Working to a specific word count is a great way to get practice at being economical with words.  Magazines and newspapers will want a precise number of words for their articles.  Short stories can have a bit more flexibility but not much.  I once cut down a rejected short story from 1,500 words to 1,000 so that I could send it to an alternative publication that had different word count requirements.

After a bit of practice you should find it fairly easy to reach the exact number of words needed.

Try this exercise: Take a 1,000 word piece of writing and cut it down by 150 to 200 words, or more if you can. That’s the equivalent of two to three regular paragraphs.  Be brutal getting rid of words that aren’t really necessary.  Then read and compare both pieces and see how much better the shorter, tighter version sounds.