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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Concise Writing Techniques: Give Your Writing the Marie Kondo Treatment


There is a reason Marie Kondo's methods have become a new lifestyle for people in everyday organization—they work, make sense, and make life easier to manage. What if you could do the same thing for your writing?

In this article, we'll take a look at some of the classic rules that have been known to make writing easier, while introducing other good habits to develop when it comes to the craft of writing. Whether you're a fiction writer, a content writer, a technology writer, blogger, or anything in-between, these tips will apply to you. So, without further to do, let's get to our first concise writing technique:

Tip #1: No adverbs

We've all been taught this rule, whether you have taken writing classes, studied craft books, or scoured the Internet for tips. The ultimate concise rule of writing is: No adverbs. Adverbs are telling words and they usually simply reinforce what has already been shown, or needs to be shown. They do not sound natural, and they throw the reader off.

What if you had a bunch of Christmas decorations cluttering your house—when it wasn't Christmas time—in boxes because you didn't have the right storage method? Well, people would probably think it looked messy and didn't belong there, right? It's the same with adverbs. You can always find a better way than an adverb. This brings us to our next technique, another classic tip.

Much like a cluttered house can look messy, your writing will look cluttered with too many adverbs.
Much like a cluttered house can look messy, your writing will look cluttered with too many adverbs. Photo by Onur Bahçıvancılar on Unsplash

Tip #2: Show vs. tell

This is a golden rule that you can find in any craft book or from any editor. It takes a long time to strike the balance of showing and telling, especially when a writer is first starting out. Always be on the lookout for these opportunities and ask yourself: Have I appealed to any of the five senses? If the answer is no, then you are probably telling.

Use your sensory descriptions. Telling takes up space and disengages the reader. Show them with some visceral and sensory details what is going on without having to give them an info dump. Trust your readers and your writing when it comes to show vs. tell. Just like we are trusting Marie Kondo with the organization of our homes. Because it has proven to be successful and make people happier—most people's favorite writing has appealed to their senses, so why not follow what has proven to be successful? Let's continue with the simplicity in our next technique.

Tip #3: Delete filler words

How many times do you find yourself writing words like very, just, like, really, etc? Pretty (there's another one!) much any time you write words like these, you can simply delete them when revising and editing. They do not contribute anything more to your writing. Just like those filler objects that do not spark any joy for you! I guarantee you that your filler words won't be sparking joy in yourself or the reader. Delete, delete, delete.

Let's even go a step further with this last rule. When editing, delete anything that doesn't move your story, article, and content forward in terms of momentum. Ask yourself if what you have written introduces us to something new—if not, then you should probably delete it. Also ask yourself if what you have written is repetitive from previous sections—if yes, then delete that, too.

It can be really difficult as a writer to not only see when the tension is lost in our writing, but also difficult in terms of letting writing go that we like and have worked hard at creating. However, this is how our writing becomes cluttered and we lose readers' attention. There is a classic quote often attributed to William Faulkner about writing, Murder your darlings. Think about this when it comes to Marie Kondo techniques—it doesn't spark the proper "joy" in your writing (i.e., it isn't doing what it is supposed to). So, therefore, make sure you thank yourself and that beautiful piece of writing you put forth, and simply save it for a later date—it may very well belong in a different piece.

Tip #4: In dialogue, use "said"

Another way to ensure conciseness in your writing is to use "said" as a dialogue tag instead of anything else, such as exclaimed, stammered, laughed, demanded, etc. These other words are overcomplicated and distract the reader from the line of dialogue, whereas "said" usually slips right by with simplicity and the reader won't even register the word, but will be drawn directly to the dialogue, which is your main goal. Don't distract the reader unless it is intentional; otherwise, you will be steering them down the wrong path. Much like showing vs. telling, trust your writing and your reader, and let the dialogue show what the tag you may have wanted to initially use was going to.

This is another similar technique to no adverbs, using said, and showing vs. telling in that it keeps things simple. There is a classic quote from Mark Twain on writing: Don't use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do. This basically sums up simplicity and being concise in itself. Don't distract your reader with unnecessary fancy words, but rather make your point—choose the correct word.

Tip #5: Use active voice

So often we see writers writing in the passive voice and it is both jarring and disengaging. An example of active voice would be: "She looked at him." Now compare this with passive voice: "The eyes of the girl watched the man." The girl is the one doing the watching, even if it is her eyes that take in an appearance—they are attached to her and her brain! So, which example sounds more pleasing and keeps it simple? I would even go further to say that the active voice example shows us more in terms of feeling and thought that could be taking place for the girl. Always stay active in writing—and organizing, of course!

Tip #6: Create an outline

Creating an outline could be directly compared to Marie Kondo's infamous folding technique. The reason people love this technique so much is because they can see what each item of clothing is when they open the drawer, and the space-saving simplicity is a major bonus. This is similar to an outline. In an outline, you can see each step that you must complete laid out in a tidy way. The simplicity is more in time saved spent on editing the un-outlined text rather than space saving in your drawers, but both are equally satisfying. And you may find that your outline sparks some serious joy.

Along the same lines as the outline and comparable to Marie Kondo's folding technique, you can also create an outline for personal deadlines. Obviously, if you have strict deadlines from a third party then you will want to adhere to those, but mapping out your timeframe yourself can be a great time-saver, and keep you meeting deadlines whether they be your own or someone else's. They let you see each part of the process as you tackle these steps—much like seeing all your shirts in a row in the drawer!

Outlining can be a great way to achieve more concise writing.
Outlining can be a great way to achieve more concise writing. Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash.

Tip #7: Word sprints

Another technique to try out is word sprints. This is a really efficient way to get a ton of writing done in a short time. You can designate exactly what you are going to work on and set a timer (usually for thirty minutes or so). You then write as much as possible in those thirty minutes and when the timer goes off you take a break. You can do as many as you want with set breaks in-between. The challenge will be to determine honestly when you know you will burn out so that you do not set unrealistic expectations for yourself. This is not only efficient, but can be really fun—much like tackling your home in one area at a time to organize.

Another rule to keep in mind to make your writing engaging, clear, and easy to read is to vary sentence and paragraph length, and even chapter lengths if you're writing a book. Think about it in terms of how you would organize your clothes versus how you would organize your silverware—not every method works for every item. This is the same for sentences and paragraphs. Some need to be shorter in order to function as they're meant to and some need to be longer to convey the ideas. This will keep your readers feeling a sense of ease because your writing won't be making them do any hard work.

Tip #8: Know what your topic is before you begin

If outlining doesn't work for you in the beginning, at least know or have an idea of what you want to say. You wouldn't tackle a drawer full of clutter without knowing how you were going to reorganize it, would you? Knowing what you want to say and identifying that it is a worthwhile message will create ease in your writing process, and probably make it quicker as well.

There you have it, our most concise writing techniques that can be applied to any genre. Whether you're thinking about beginning the project, just getting started, or well into the editing phase—keep our guidelines in mind. And remember, you started this journey because it sparks joy, so keep that alive as you move forward!

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