Conciseness: reasons why you really definitely should probably be a little more careful about word choice to make sure that you’re not being completely redundant
—Contributed by Coty Barrett, Fiction Editor
As a general rule, if you can remove something without taking away from the meaning or comprehensibility of your writing, then you should do so. As a freshman in my first writing class, I quickly had this advice drilled into my head. It sounds like a straightforward rule, but it took me years to fully appreciate the importance of this advice.
Now, as fiction editor, one of the most off-putting things I can find in a submission is wordiness. I’ve turned down plenty of submissions that I wanted to accept, because while I enjoyed them, they could have gotten the same point across in half the space with clever editing.
I had to grapple with this issue as soon as my first submission in my first creative writing class. I had written three pages of what I planned to be a lengthy murder mystery. The intention of my submission was to act as a prologue for the rest of the story. It would show an incomplete perspective on the murder before leading into the bulk of the story, where new information would be revealed about that initial scene. When I got my story back, it had one piece of advice: “This all feels like background information. Try cutting out all of this and starting the story at the end of this scene.” This is a trap that I see many beginning writers fall into. When I realized that my professor was right, and I could easily remove all three pages, I felt like I had wasted my time.
That same professor, and so many others, have often repeated the phrase “to write is human, to edit is divine.” This attitude toward writing intimidated me as a budding writer in my freshman year. It felt like professors wanted to stifle my creativity by telling me that my style of writing was wrong, so I pushed against this lesson for a while. Looking back, I see that the point of this advice wasn’t to alter my style, but to turn it into a more appealing version of itself.