Want to Write Well? Cut Mercilessly

Back in my distant past I had to learn to live with editing. I was in my twenties. It made me mad. Why change my stuff? But it also made my stuff better.

“Berry, you write like a God-damned literature major.” (Norberto Schwarzman)

So said the overnight editor at UPI back in 1972.  He did me a great favor. “Write for the reader,” he would say, way more often than I would have liked. 

By the late 70s I was writing for a Business Week editor (Hugh Menzies) who consistently cut the shreds out of my writing, and, dammit, every time he did he made it better. I sent my stories to him for about four years. And I learned that cutting was good.

I’ve been writing professionally for 30-some years now, and I’ve never written anything that wasn’t better after cutting. So I’ve come to love cutting.

If you want to read some really good advice about this, read Editing for Tighter Copy: How to Write with a Knife on Copyblogger yesterday. And if you want to write better, print it and paste it on your wall.

7 thoughts on “Want to Write Well? Cut Mercilessly

  1. Whenever I write anything I first make it as elegantly and creative as I can. Then I take great joy in paring it down to its bare essence. It’s a long process, but I find it extremely rewarding to find the balance of message, style and wordiness.

  2. Writing is a passion that comes as a privilege: while composing sentences that come alive with every word can be easy for some, it can be tough for others. So, if you have the talent and the opportunity, why not make it a daily habit?

  3. Thanks for the link to the editing article – I need it. I have been writing for my business for about three years now. It still doesn’t come really easily for me, but when I look back at what I used to write three years ago, I can see the progress. I am hoping that I will write as well as you Tim, but I’m sure it will take time. Thanks, Suzanne

  4. Thanks guys, very welcome additions here. “I take great joy in paring it down to its bare essence.” Beautifully said. And I like the passion/privilege take too. And that nice note from Suzanne. I love it when the comments really add to the post. Thanks. Tim.

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