How to Become a Concise Writer in 5 Steps

16 Dec

Photo: (John McNab)

“Get to the point Nowak!” -Former dictator of a boss

“Honey… why do you talk so much?” -My loving girlfriend

“Phil, I don’t need all the details.” -My younger brother, my blood!

Sound familiar? As you might have correctly guessed, I LOVE details and really love sharing them with others.  Unfortunately, others close to me don’t necessarily feel the same way.

This love for long-form also tends to carry over to my writing style.  Some may argue that each person writes differently and should accept who they are.  I don’t agree.  I have tried to write freely in the past, only to get buried in an avalanche of details.

I’m also quite aware of the increasingly shorter attention span of the average reader online.   I should know, I’m one of them.   I would rather read a bite-sized nugget of a blog post than lose interest halfway through a longer post.  There is something to be said about the minimalist style of a Leo Babauta or a power-packed daily morsel of information from Seth Godin.

I made the decision several months ago to make a concerted effort to write in a more concise manner.  That doesn’t mean that every blog post I publish from now on will be super short, but it does mean that I will do my best to make each post PUNCH out at my readers.

How to Become a Concise Writer in 5 Steps

Think. I tend to ramble when my ideas aren’t ripe for writing just yet.  To combat this, I let my ideas develop over time as I formulate my opinion.  I have ideas for blog posts just sitting around as drafts in my WordPress dashboard, half-written concepts in my Google Docs account and on paper in my idea notebook.  These ideas can be activated at any point by just about anything: other blog posts I’ve written, books, magazine articles, online content, conversations, meetings at work, events, TV or anything else that might inspire me.

Write. One would think that this is the easiest and most obvious step.  Not for me.  I succumbed to an irrational mental trap where I thought I needed long-uninterrupted periods of time to write.  My schedule doesn’t permit these huge time blocks, so I made endless excuses about not writing.  When I did finally get around to writing, I was distracted by my time limits and ended up going off into random tangents.  I resolved this by altering my writing style to short bursts at any given time during the day.  I downloaded the WordPress mobile app and now have access to my blog everywhere: on the bus, on the train, in the car or on the couch.  Keep in mind that this is in addition to my laptop and desktop computer at home.  No excuses!

Edit/Delete. Do you remember when your college professors would remind you to proofread everything three times and then have someone else look at it?  Guess what, that actually works.  As a writer, you might not necessarily be able to have someone else proofread your content before publishing, but you can sure as hell proofread it yourself 10 times!  I usually sleep on my blog posts after several revisions and still find things that I’d like to edit or delete.

Shorter Emails. I use this technique as practice for concision and to reduce time spent in my email.  I get a lot of email, especially at work.  I won’t get into how I manage my email here (that’s a future blog post), but I have altered the way that I answer emails.  I do my best to limit my emails and replies to no more than three very concise sentences forcing the other person to conform to your shorter style.  Is it ruthless to answer someone’s four paragraph email with just a few words?  Perhaps, but I feel no remorse.

Twitter. Twitter made a huge impact on my writing style since every tweet has to be under 140 characters. Have to leave room for links/retweets too! (1 character left) See?

I’ve already noticed my writing style evolving and I’m really pumped up about it.  While I doubt that I’ll ever be able to rival the concise writing style of Leo or Seth, every bit of practice helps.