Declutter your text: narrow your scope

cat-1429231_960_720Am I the only one who gets discouraged when, scrolling down a possibly interesting blog post, I see that it’s obviously a few thousand words? Unless the writer is a friend or an amazing writer, I’ll tend to pass. Maybe the writer had a lot to say, in which case all is well, or maybe they rambled forever… which is one of the surest ways to lose my attention.

When you start off as a blogger, you try to say everything in one post. I did. Then, that annoying advice my college teacher would repeat me until I got my essay topic approved came to haunt me again:

“Narrow it down.”

That’s when I realised I was trying to fit 3 posts in 1. From there, it was easy to separate them. What’s difficult is seeing that there are, indeed, 3 distinct ideas. They are so intricately weaved together in your head that you don’t see the different threads. Readers, however, could end up confused or bored and you don’t want that.

So you have a neverending first draft. Excellent! Now, figure out the “point” of your article. editingYou have to be able to summarise it in a few words – your title. If you’d be tempted to add commas, or if nothing seems to grasp the entirety of your content… you might have more than one article in there.

Once you know what your point is, analyse every paragraph, then every sentence in your post. Delete or copy/paste everything that’s irrelevant. Even the funniest of anecdotes will fall flat if it’s not relevant in context. If you have such a jewel, keep it and make it shine bright where it belongs.

All of that is a bit vague, so here’s a concrete example. I tried reading a book review recently and I could not finish it. There was a lengthy introduction about the theme of the book, a rather long synopsis and a few opinions scattered here and there.

I don’t know about you, but when I read reviews, all I want is an opinion. I want to know what worked and didn’t work for you. I can read the blurb on Goodreads, and it will be one that has been rewritten several times by professionals. Actually, most of the times when I read a review, that’s because I’ve already read it and was intrigued by it. Retelling me is redundant.

As for the theme… you can mention it, but make it more than a sentence long and it might look out of place. If that theme is important to you and you feel the need to talk more about it… make another post!

yada-yada-1430679_960_720It’s alright to ramble when writing your first draft. That’s what first drafts are for. It’s even okay to post some rambling, especially if you’re talking about your life. But sometimes you have to be to the point.

Of course, time being a limited resource, you have to let go eventually. I’ve rewritten this twice and edited it for several hours… It’s fiiiiine. *publish*

Rewriting is the essence of writing well: it’s where the game is won or lost. That idea is hard to accept. We all have an emotional equity in our first draft; we can’t believe that it wasn’t born perfect. But the odds are close to 100 percent that it wasn’t.
– William Zinsser

Other posts in this series: Use modifiers in moderationBeware of repetitions.

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40 thoughts on “Declutter your text: narrow your scope

  1. Maybe.. writers should write substantive posts! This should be the real focus IMO, if you can write something substantive, profound, true be it in an aphorism, a short article or a 20 page essay this is what matters.

    Reading should have a purpose, not aimlessly reading for entertainment or consumption which then narrowing it down for the adhd minds of our generation would make sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t believe in telling writers what to write about. Different people have different tastes and needs, and I think it’s awesome that there is something for everybody.

      Also, entertainment is a purpose in itself. While I prefer my entertainment to have a deeper meaning, it’s not the case for everybody. Besides, if something makes me laugh enough, it doesn’t need any meaning at all. The morale boost it provides me is enough. ^_^

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with your point about longer word counts being off putting, however I’m quite regularly write posts anywhere between 1,000-3,000 words when posting short stories or chapters of a longer work of fiction and these don’t tend to do as well as my shorter posts when I’m writing flash fiction or poetry.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I think you’re right which seems like a shame. I spend far more time trying to drum up attention for my longer stories than my short snaps. Sometimes I feel like the crazy person trying to shove my writing in people’s faces like ‘Look! I make words on the page! Look at me!’
        Okay, maybe not that dramatic but still.

        Liked by 3 people

      • I know! I feel like nagging people to read my longer posts too. I’ve spend so much time perfecting the post! But more often than not, they don’t receive much attention. It’s a sad truth that most people are put off by long posts.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I love it when my posts generate a discussion! It made me remember how it somehow applies to visual arts too, despite the fact that it doesn’t take people longer to look at an elaborate illustration vs a speed painting. This happened to me and to a lot of my artist friends: that piece you produced in just a few hours gets better “results” than that other piece you spent forever on. I’d like to think that… others can sometimes see “artistic genius” in pieces that we value less because they came so naturally. Like there is a nice “instinct” quality to speed paintings that you don’t find in “slow” paintings… a pure spark of inspiration… I’m not sure how to express it, but I find it also sometimes happen with written pieces. However, long pieces are where you probably learn the most.

        I think there is value to both long and short pieces, but it certainly is more difficult to get long pieces read. I listened to the “Million Dollar Book Business” podcast by The author hangout, and the thought occurred to me that the “value ladder” could be applied to visitors, reads, likes, comments and follows. For example, if you get 100 visitors on your blog, 60 will read a “short” post, 50 will “like” it, 30 will comment on it, 2 will “follow”, 1 will go on to read other posts, 0,5 (1 in 200) will share a post, and 0,2 (1 in 500) will read a longer post. Those stats are absolutely not scientific, but it’s just an example. So an effective “marketing” strategy would probably be to bring as much traffic as possible to your blog with short posts, but have something in there for those who want more “substance”.

        This is interesting… I have to do more research on the subject. I’ll be sure to post my conclusions as a stand-alone article sometime. ^_^

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, Ida. That’s so true. Sometimes the posts that we wrote spontaneously end up gathering more “results” than the longer posts that we spent a lot of time on. It’s disappointing to know that such hard work didn’t have the intended effect. Similarly​, it’s an utter delight when your ​spontaneous short post receives so much attention! Those are the two extremes. And yes, that would be a good marketing strategy and I’m currently in the process of implementing that. And yes, the traffic has increased. I’d love to read your conclusions! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • I actually think fiction blogs are “an exception” of sorts. After all, your target audience is people who love the act of reading. The difficult part in that case is probably to reach that audience and build yourself a fan base. I wish you good luck!

      Also, is there any one story you’re particularly proud of that you’d like to recommend me? I can become quite fangirlish when I like a writer’s style, haha.

      Like

  3. I agree at least partly in that it depends on what your blog is about. I am working on a travel blog documenting my experience in a country for two months. News Articles already show a condensed version of my experience, while I’m blogging the full story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I absolutely agree with you there. I realize now my sentence wasn’t clear, but when I said “maybe the writer had a lot to say”, it meant “as opposed to rambling forever, trying to organize their thoughts”. In other words, when you really do have a lot to say, by all means, say it! And if it makes things clearer to say it all in one post, do it. I place travel blogs kind of… in a special category, with crafts blogs, autobiographical blogs, fiction blogs and… maybe some others.

      How could I put it? It’s specialized, not generic. It’s not something I’ll read quickly in the morning before getting to work to put a smile on my face or to make me think about life. It’s something I’ll look for specifically, find through google (and in terms of SEO, longer posts are better), and read leisurely at night when all of my daily responsibilities have been taken care of.

      The following posts in this series might apply more to specialized blogs.

      Like

  4. Oh, the example was a suitable one. I’m a book blogger and I post Book Reviews on my blog. And I’m trying to write shorter reviews, focussing more on my opinions than the actual theme/storyline.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment! I guess it is mainly a question of taste.

      I’ve realized after posting this that I do read and enjoy some articles about books that focus on their theme, without much opinion in it, and that’s fine to. They don’t feel so much like “book reviews” as “book talk”, but it’s a thing, too. So long as your post as a clear purpose.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely. Robert Graves said: “There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.” Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut and William Zinsser all have said similar things. Hm, I forgot to add a quote at the end of this post… I think I’ll go and add one right away.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Completely agree. I tend to compose short blog posts because I dislike long, rambling posts myself. Also, agree about reviews too. What you want to know is whether they are worth reading or watching and why.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m new to the world of blogging, but I’ve been dabbling in writing for a bit now, and I’ve noticed that the shorter your work is, the more people will actually stop to read it. No matter what type of content or message it contains or the medium of expression. People will read my shorter poems, tiny stories but nobody touches the longer ones. I’ve tried shortening my work but I find that I do ramble quite a bit. And that bit about trying to squeeze too many ideas into one post? I relate to that on so many levels. Any pointers on how to identify or separate one big jumble of content into smaller, more discernible topics?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find that giving myself a word limit (500) is a good way to make sure my non fiction posts remain short. So when I exceed it, I do as if I had a character-limit like on Twitter: I get rid of things that aren’t absolutely necessary or that deviate from the subject.

      But really, there is no magic trick: you have to put in the time, and you’ll get better at it with experience. I spend *hours* rewriting and editing every single post because I tend to ramble a lot, too.

      Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is actually a brilliant idea. I can’t believe I didn’t think of setting a word limit. Ahh. *i think i see the light* Word limits always remind me of the essays and articles I have to write at school. I have to be very careful about the word limit there. There is definitely little to no rambling on those pieces of writing. I’ll give this a try! Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ll be honest. After reading this post, I went on to check your other blogposts just to see if you follow your own advice. And I’m glad for two reasons. 1. You really do. 2. I checked your other posts too. Your writing is so concise, yet so descriptive. I still struggle to express my thoughts in as little words as possible.
    I’m glad I came across your comment in the community pool.
    Followed! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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