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Now I Ask You, Is 10 Inches Just a Trim?

Cut Your Content Until it Screams! Sue-Ann Bubacz

So here’s the deal. I’m a wordy girl. I just am. Maybe for, let’s see, always!

I can’t help it; I get excited about things and also, I truly like words I think.

Expression.

I’m a big reader…are you? If you are, maybe you get it.

Maybe you know the power of words and where they can take you and maybe writing is fun and interesting for you as it is for me.

But you must “kill your little darlings” as Stephen King famously put it in his book about writing and those “little darlings” as it turns out, are your words.

And of course, darlings that they are, you don’t want to part with them.

You slaved over your keyboard and racked your brain to come up with them. They seem quite brilliant. But don’t get too attached. It isn’t in your best interest.

Especially your favorite stuff, the wordiness, the fluff, the cutesy and poetic. Do not get attached, I warn you, nothing is sacred.

“But, but, but,” you’re saying, thinking, muttering. Yep. Me too.

It’s a tough lesson ladies and gentlemen.

And if you’re thick-headed like me, it’s a never ending lesson. But buck up, because I’m going to give you practical and useful details and resources to use right now so you can make your writing stronger immediately.

Hopefully, some of it will stick in your head, and you’ll continue to be a better writer every single time you write. That’s a great goal. I think I’ll make that my goal!

You’re probably wondering how my thick-headed self arrived at the realization that editing and concise copy is everything.

Well, I didn’t get it while taking writing courses, reading books, blogs, news, papers, e-books, magazines, webinars, seminars, and more, galore. Nope, none of that, with all the writing/reading/editing advice, did it. Not at all.

Constructive critiques didn’t do it. Not even from some big shot writers, nice enough to take a quick look at my work. I wanted to hear the advice, use it, and write better. But I was a little attached to my darlings.

Heck, my friend, an editor, once said, “Even an editor needs an editor.” How about that?

Thinking about what people said, started to be, at least, worth considering, and thinking over. Hmmm. Then…

I met Edward Scissorhands, or rather, his sister, and it finally hit me!

Long story told in a short way, (see I’m editing) goes like this:

Mom tells me, in that persuasively suggestive motherly way, I really need a haircut, and literally five minutes later, we enter our local hair salon. Trouble was brewing from the get-go when my customer card was gone (maybe it’s been too long since I was last there).

The nice lady asks when I was last in for a haircut, and I say, “About 6 inches or so ago.”

Giggles all around. So what do you want to do today?  “Just a trim,” is my answer. Easy peasy.

Then Edward Scissorhands’ sister took over. Snip, snip, snip, snap, whoosh, snip, snap, blow out and tada. The new me. Whew, that was some quick, slick clipping.

As we’re hitting the sidewalk on our way out the door, I mention to my mom that my head sure feels lighter. I swing my head about a little, testing the new do. My mom says, “She sure did cut a lot off.”

I tell her there’s nothing to worry about because besides asking for just a trim, I told the hairdresser that I need to pull my hair up into a ponytail for work and boating, so it can’t possibly be too short and still do that, clearly.

But it was. And it wouldn’t. I mean, I couldn’t even pull it up. It wouldn’t reach.

If I were a normal girl, I would be tragically upset and hot with anger, perhaps. She “trimmed” at least 10 inches of my hair. Gone. Is that a “trim?” And I gave a nice tip, too. Humph.

It did tick me off for a second, I guess. Four months later and I still can’t pull all my hair up into a decent ponytail or an easy twist. But overall, I don’t care.

Hair just doesn’t mean that much to me. It’s only hair. It doesn’t hurt when it gets cut, and it grows back too. So big whoop.

And that's when it hit me like a free flying freight train head on. Splat.

Editing my writing is like cutting my hair. It doesn’t hurt me at all. In fact, it makes my work better. Stronger. Wow.

Drop it like it’s hot! Let it go.

Write this down: GET OVER YOURSELF.

You need to realize that you’re not nearly as good as you think you are. (At least I’m not.) At the same time, understand it is NOT personal. It’s just business. You are perfecting your product by embracing your buddy, old pal, editing.

So go ahead, get to know him, and like him. He is your friend. Keep telling yourself.

Don’t worry, I’m still working on a healthy relationship with editing, myself. Just remember, you have to commit to making it work:)

To sum up, adopting a mindset that allows you to view critically, review, tweak and ultimately edit your work to perfection (to your best ability) is the crucial first step. Yep, crucial.

Teachers. Tools. Techniques.

Once you wrap your head around the idea that a trim can, in fact, lead to 10 inches, or more, cut from your writing and left on the floor, it’s time to figure out how to accomplish the perfectly coifed final cut.

I don’t know about you but, I’m going for a showstopper, and achieving my goal to write better every single time.

I’m inspired to make this happen and willing to share my findings with you.

So, I’ve put together a combination of techniques, tools, and teachers I find enlightening and practical. Warning: don’t let any of these replace your brain, or construe any one of these as an ultimate final say in your work.

Technique 1:  This tip is an easy, helpful trick I use consistently.

Writer and blogger extraordinaire, Sharon Hurley Hall, kindly shared it with me in a LIVE interview/webinar, about the writing process.

An “aha moment” struck me during this talk, making me realize: editing is part of the writing process.

Sometimes, when you are so focused on the writing itself, you may skip over the mega-significant polish that proper editing brings to your work. And your work craves. Soooo…

Lose the “that.” The what? No, “that.” It’s simple. Go through your writing and drop the word, “that,” anywhere your sentence still makes perfect sense.

If you’re like me, you stand to lose about 100 words at a time, just by dropping unnecessary uses of the word “that.” Thank you forever for this one, Sharon.

Technique 2:  Brush up on the basics. Like standard grammar.

Mistakes happen. Stupid mistakes make you look bad. And worse, they’ll scare readers, customers, prospects, and potential clients/employers away.

Cathy Miller, in her trademark simply stated way, makes it easy and fun for you in this SlideShare she calls, “Terrifying Typos” but I say it looks like scary grammar to me!

"Terrifying Typos" by Cathy Miller

For less fun, but a more in-depth exploration of proper grammar usage, proper punctuation and more, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, widely considered “the official style guide used by writers and editors,” is a good place to start. At one time, it was THE go-to guide for journalists, in general.

While it is still known and used, The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. And E.B. White (shown below) keeps popping up as the current recommendation for writers.

Strunk & White, The Elements o Style book graphic
I picked it up for a copywriting course and, well, I don’t like it. Maybe because it first was written in 1918. I’m not sure. But this book is one of the worst ever, to my taste.

That said, I see it talked about often in writing courses, organizations, etc. so I’m giving you the information, and you can decide for yourself. (Stay tuned for a better alternative!)

An important note for you on universal rules for grammar, punctuation, usage, and style: The rules vary by platform, which I know seems redundant.

My best advice is to follow the appropriate style or guidelines for who you are writing for, and who you are writing to. Ask for accepted guidelines and try to work within them as best as possible.

Writers break rules, sometimes in a way that becomes their “signature” but, mostly they break rules for the purpose of making their work the best they can, feeling that the broken rule adds or assists in what they want to express.

I get it. But if it means a publish or not, you may want to go with the standard requested or explain your reason (it BETTER be good) not to follow directions.

Technique 3: Wielding words. What do I mean by that?

Writing and words, words and writing. Well, it’s an entanglement that brings ideas, information, products, procedures, creativity and more, to life.

But doing it well is a matter of craft. Thoughtful use of language and practice are the key components.

I give you this tidbit of Infographic by Brian Clark, founder in some respects, of blogging/writing on the Internet to business success. It pretty much says it all:

better-writer by copyblogger
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

“Practice makes perfect, but only if you do it right,” is an oldie, but true in most things, however; writing is a subjective kind of thing, and that adds to the struggle to get it “right.”

I just work to do better as I go and to keep learning and growing along the way, more than worry about being perfect.

I’ve had people both love and hate the same piece of work. See what I mean?

I strive for two things in my work, writing or otherwise:

  • quality and
  • authenticity.

I try to do the best I can every single time I write. Looking for tips and tricks to do it better and better is an ongoing process. Lucky for us both, there’s a gem out there in the enchanted forest called the web.

Let me introduce you (if you haven’t already read and love her stuff) to Henneke Duistermaat from EnchantingMarketing.com. Henneke and her “Snackable” digestible tidbits for writing will make you think the enchanted writing godmother you have been waiting for has at long last arrived. Start by sampling these:

How to Use Adverbs

Rhythm in Writing

Sensory Words

p.s. When I wrote the scissors cutting section in this, ending with “quick, slick clipping,” I thought of Henneke:)

Technique 4: Finding your writing piece/peace of mind.

Lots of advice out there will tell you the habits, practices, tricks, etc. of great writers, how to work at your highest productive level, and what to incorporate in your practice of writing.

In my estimation, writing is a solo sport. Not completely, but you know what I mean here.

Figuring out your particular winning strategy, your best work habits, your prime times for personal productivity, inspiration, reading and research, education, and improving your craft will, ultimately, depend on you.

As a general overview, these apply to me, and maybe you too, maybe to all writers. I see these in various formats all over writing, blogging, copywriting, and author media all the time:

  • Find a comfortable place to write. (Clean, cluttered, indoor, outdoor)
  • Have some writing privacy from everything else. (Distraction free space)
  • Discover your preferred instrument(s) for writing. (Pen/paper, App, Writing Software, Voice Recorder, Journal, or mix of these and others)
  • Schedule time to write without fail and to ALWAYS make deadlines. (Organization system of some sort)
  • Figure out your best writing system. (Work from a Headline/or not, an Outline/or not, Research before/after Drafting, Collect research in Evernote/Trello/Google Docs/Notes)
  • Schedule “walk-away” time. (To see your work with fresh eyes or a new perspective)
  • Leave time to edit. More. Than. Once. (Read aloud, Read backward, Ask someone else)

This article by Sharon Hurley Hall, the same writer I started this section with, brings you an excellent overall take on this, based on Stephen King’s book, mentioned earlier.

Writing Tool Talk.

To expand on the last point and bottom line to writing with polish, or dropping darlings, or chopping it off, as per your needs, let’s talk tools.

Relax. It turns outs there are tools to help in a huge way and with ease. I’ll keep it to 3 and for more info, kikolani has you covered in this recent post by Robert Morris.

  1. Flesh-Kincaid Readability Calculator determines the grade level of your writing. The average reader reads at a much lower level than you may expect. Shorter sentences, simpler vocabulary and less complex/compound sentences, all factor in for this scoring.
  2. Hemingway Editor or App, named after the writer, works similarly to the above with simple color codes to identify writing issues.
  3. Grammarly is a more robust editing app, and I started using it per a post by Kristi Hines, suggesting how handy it is and I like it. My favorite help from Grammarly is with verb tense issues, and as much as I try not to have them, they keep springing up along my merry writing way. Also, it seems I have a split infinitive problem and constantly want to write them backward. These things are good to discover about yourself. Try it.

Teachers To Tether To

You can learn something from every person, and in that case, I change teachers as often as other people change their underwear. Often, that is. (Hopefully!)

That’s why I use “tether to” in talking “teacher” here.

If you happened to catch my last guest post, (Why My Blog is a Hog) I named some “leaders,” of interest. I included established writers, content marketing experts, bloggers, social and digital media pros, copywriters and business persons in the digital space I follow, study, admire, or all of the above.

Learning from people in your field helps YOU. Following their example, reading their work, absorbing their expertise, and aspiring to be of the same caliber, gives you goals and even focus.

At the moment, here’re my top picks, but you will find your own perfect mix.

I don’t know if I pick Ann Handley because:

  1. at the same time as I was reading her recent book, a big time writer told me, my writing “seems Ann-like” and it flew to my head
  2. her book’s pretty fantastic, helpful and fun
  3. she’s a successful writer with a broad scope of work, beyond her brilliant books, including the not too shabby likes of Entrepreneur Magazine, among others
  4. she seems to work tirelessly, teaching, presenting, and sharing her writing and marketing expertise far and wide, throughout the land while still guiding and shining in her capacity at MarketingProfs
  5. she’s got the tweeting thing down pat

No matter, you will learn something from Everybody Writes, where Ann shares gems like, “Add blog bling” and says this about editing:

…writers tend to equate editing with fixing the grammar, when it’s so much more than that.”

Yep. I promised you a better alternative for grammar/usage/style, and this is it. And it’s all that and more—a go-to reference. Promise.

If Ann is an elegant champagne, my next teacher pick is more like a boiler-maker.

If you don’t know what that is, it’s some gross concoction that basically slams a whiskey shot into a glass of beer to digest as one, in an unruly steel town guzzle.

Heck, Neville Medhora refers to himself as a fat ass sumo. He’s irreverent, cocky, funny (at least to him, not always me) and possibly a little nuts. Either that or he’s poisoned himself with one too many tacos while plotting “Killer” Kopy (his trademark spelling) with Noah for AppSumo.

The thing about Nev is, his zany lessons and Kopywriting “Kred” will teach you something whether you like it or not. Get on his email list and buckle your seatbelt, so you’re ready for a Kopywriting “Krash” Kourse!

I always open and read anything he sends—I’m just saying.

Finally, a newbie to my teachers with pizazz list and a great source, particularly if you are interested, as I am, in creating what Dr. Kelly Edmonds calls, “a learning journey.”

To us, this means writing e-courses of an unlimited variety, Dr. Kelly offers clear, spot on, first-rate guidance and advice.

I haven’t enrolled in anything that cost money (yet) with Dr. Kelly, but I feel like she gives me a more direct, helpful and accurate presentation in her skilled approach than any single source on one single specific topic. You can’t help but learn from, and like, Dr. Kelly Edmonds. Go learn something to add to your writing toolbox at her site.

Well, that’s it for now, although I could probably go on. In spite of at least a 10 inch trim, I may still need an editor!

Hopefully, you picked up some useful points. Let me know what you think, and thanks for reading.

By Sue-Ann Bubacz

I'm a Content Creator for Businesses and I love reading, writing, and learning. I'm also obsessed with producing quality content. In fact, I'll write for your business as if it were my own! Connect with me: on my website or on Twitter

68 replies on “Now I Ask You, Is 10 Inches Just a Trim?”

Great tips here, Sue-Ann (and you’ve linked to some of my favorite writers, too). It’s also good to make a note of your written/verbal tics as these result in overused phrases. Cut most of those and you have a better piece of writing.

Sharon:

You are so nice to comment and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the feedback. I think I have some work to do in identifying and shooting down those darn tics! I think the whole writing process is getting better with practice. Sometimes, I feel better remembering even an editor needs an editor…lol

Thanks again for your time. Sue-Ann

This is a very impressive post indeed. I guess you have put lot of efforts to produce this post and it’s very useful for me and other bloggers as well. Thanks for sharing such an excellent post.

You know, I like most of us, think we can write and criticism can jar but advice like this can make us sit back and think for a while. Thanks for another great piece.

Darrin.

Thanks once more for the link love, Sue-Ann. I’ve often said there is a danger in writing like I talk. I ramble. All over the place. So, like you, I’ve discovered the value of editing. Thanks for sharing your tips and resources. I always like “meeting” new pros. 🙂

Thanks for sharing my work, Sue-Ann. Your advice nicely transfers to writing course content.

Too many courses have too much content that goes off in all sorts of directions leaving behind the important points needing to be taught. It’s a common mistake among all teachers, instructors and course developers.

Trimmed and focused content helps people learn, bare none.

Dr. Kelly:

I’m so thrilled to have you comment. I know my wordy self still needs big improvement. You have that “focus and trim content” part down to perfection. It’s only one of the reasons I look so highly at your course building expertise.

Thank you so much, and for anyone who has interest in doing course content, you need to check out Dr. Kelly’s site (link above) because you WILL find what you need to know there. Kind regards, Sue-Ann

Thank you so much for the link love and your kind words, Sue-Ann.

As you say, killing our little darlings is tough, but I still find myself surprised sometimes how much better content becomes when we kill them. And quite often, my first draft contains one or two sentences, that I love, but then when I edit, I notice they’re irrelevant or a tad bombastic. So they have to go.

Editing is a tough job, that we have to continue to practice all our lives 🙂

So pleased to have you pop in, Henneke, and I am so glad to hear the challenge of editing lasts for writers, for always, so I can strive to improve as I go. Whew. I still have hope.

Thanks so much for taking time to comment. Take care, Sue-Ann

Thanks so much for these wonderful tips and advice on such a difficult matter. There is always something else to do to become a better writer and you just gave me today a few more reasons to keep on trying harder, and best of all, how to do it. Best regards and from now on you have a loyal reader 😉

Isabel: You made my day! Thank you so very much for the lovely comment. I am working on two more pieces for Kikolani right now:) and hope you will read and enjoy them, when published. I was really very pleased when the “Blog Hog” post seemed so helpful to so many, but this one is a little dear to my heart, as the tribulations of being a writer is a continuing saga! Best wishes and thank you, again. Sue-Ann

Such a very informational post…really useful. It shows the importance of read and write both. To make a better writer, I need to follow hard things. It is personally helpful for me. Thank you for sharing.

Tim:
Thanks for taking time to comment. Yes, I find some of these tips so very useful, I wanted to share them and hope they will help you as you write, too:) I like to think of “edit” as a positive and helpful part of the process. Take care and thank you. Sue-Ann

Great tips and resources. Proper grammar is so crucial to me, I try so hard to ensure that I don’t have grammatical or spelling errors in every post. Every now and then one slips through, but that’s why I always read and re-read things, even once they’re published. Just in case! 🙂

Jennifer:

Thanks for commenting. Your site looks pretty near perfect to me so, mostly, I thank you for reading my two cents:)

I always seem to find something after I think I have it perfect for publish, so I feel your pain in hating any little tiny thing at all to slip through! A beautiful thing in online publishing is that ongoing changes can happen. I’ve seen more than one writer who has added or changed something based on a reader’s input, even.

Thanks for your time, thanks for reading, and thanks for commenting, too. Sue-Ann

I love this post. Such good tips. I always think that I need to improve my writing skills but never know where to start, except for spending hours with a thesaurus trying to find alternative ‘clever’ words so I’m not repeating myself over and over and over again…

Ami x
ami-rose.com

Thanks so much for the sweet comment, Ami.

I like to repeat a word or two myself but, recently I’ve found Grammarly and the checker gives you word alternatives in their suggested edits. It saves me a ton of time worrying about repeating a word as I write when I can go back and see and adjust it later using this editor tool. Or you can work in Grammarly and see choices and editing as you go. I’m even thinking about getting rid of my book, thesaurus!

Keep writing and thanks for the lovely comment. Sue-Ann

Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I hope to continue to offer useful posts for kikolani readers. It’s so nice to hear the content is appreciated. Thanks and take care. Sue-Ann

You’ve outlined some really great tips! The first technique you outline of dropping the word “that” is one I’ve always used, as it not only cuts down on unnecessary words, but the final product tends to read smoother in my opinion as well. Thanks for sharing these!

Lucas:

I couldn’t agree more about the smoother read without “that” but, now I notice when I do need to use it, it’s for a definite reason. Thanks for your time and the nice comment. Sue-Ann

Having the right mindset is really important in editing. You cannot just trim down your content when your mind convinces you that it is unnecessary because it is already perfect and does not need any alterations.

This is a very impressive post indeed. I guess you have put lot of efforts to produce this post and it’s very useful for me and other bloggers as well. Thanks for sharing such an excellent post.

Sue-Ann

I just finished reading Haydn’s piece here on kikolani. Between his post and yours, these two with significantly different styles something quite clear coming across.

I have to ask myself and I do, is 20 inches just a trim when the average post is running 5,000 plus words on a post? They are not getting much shorter, but I do believe easier to read. At least they are easier for me to edit where I am taking a set of hedge trimmers to them instead of a chain saw.

One particular style that seems to work rather well for you and I saw Haydn doing it also is the one line paragraph. In this post I see you doing it almost constantly, but these are actionable distinctive lines which would qualify and be appropriate as a new paragraph even if only containing one line in them.

I don’t tend to write this way where almost every line is a new point of action. I try to write actionable paragraph points and when they are to long, break them into shorter ones.

Where it becomes very problematic on long post is how well can you engage and keep engaging the reader. Even very good content can wear them out half way through. This particular post of yours was wearing me out a bit, but this wasn’t really your fault as I had just read Haydn’s right before it.

Had your post not been allot of actionable one line reads and bundled up as longer paragraphs you probably would have lost me half way through it, so I would have to say it was appropriate and well done.

Your particular style seems to be those actionable one line paragraphs that would look horrible and read terrible as longer paragraphs. The lines would not belong together at all.

I thank you very much for the information and the need to keep sharpening my scissors. I doubt I will ever write like you at all in style since it seems to be very much uniquely yours. Or a combination of what most writers will tend to do on first emulating, then individually modifying and polishing into their own style of those that were/are their favorite authors.

Here is the last one I wrote if it takes correctly. Over 5000 words. It probably needs a chainsaw. We do get attached to our words and opinions, don’t we?

Hi James:

Thanks for reading this one. I think we all need a chainsaw. Well, except maybe, Henneke, from the article:) Kristi is a clear, concise writer as well.

But for me, it’s a quest to make sure every word means something, every sentence belongs for a reason, and for readers to find value.

Value, of course, may be different things to different people, but there needs to be a purpose in what you are trying to communicate, and clear and concise is the goal.

That way, you respect your readers’ time.

My “unique” style, as you call it, probably doesn’t help in this quest but the balance between what you are saying and how you say it matters.

Long form content seems (by research) to be more popular in terms of shares and traffic right now, but many “bloggers” feel that a “proper” blog post is no more than 1,000 words. Neil Patel (comment king, as well, by the way) wouldn’t hear of that short a piece of writing, as his general rule. Search also sees longer form as better, looking at an in-depth post as more authoritative and informational.

There’s an old saying, “long enough to cover the subject and short enough to keep it interesting–like a girl’s skirt.”

I think the answer comes down to delivering your message/idea/information, whatever, and not word count.

By the way, I use the single sentence paragraph style for web writing to reach scannable readers:)

Thanks for reading kikolani. Sue-Ann

This is an extremely amazing post undoubtedly. I figure you have put parcel of endeavors to create this post and it’s exceptionally valuable for me and different bloggers too. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing such a superb post.

Sania:

Thank you for your lovely comment on this piece. I’m so pleased to hear it is valuable for you and I thank you for taking the time to read it. Look for my next “gems of wisdom” (lol) on marketing, coming out soon on kikolani. Best to you. Sue-Ann

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