10 Tricks to Cut Your Word Count

Cut Your Word Count

Yes, I know. I keep banging on about how important it is to cut useless words out of your writing. And I’m not about to stop now, because useless words make your writing a slog to read. Gross.

1. Use Better Verbs

We’ve talked about this before. It’s probably my favourite trick for reducing your word count (and making your writing more exciting, obvs). What do I mean by using better verbs? I mean saying ‘shove’ instead of ‘push’. How does this cut your word count, you ask? Because if you mean ‘shove’, but you say ‘push’, you’re going to have to stick an adjective in there to get the same meaning: ‘push hard’. SEE?

2. Ditch Those Adjectives

While we’re on the subject, you can get rid of most adjectives and your writing will be stronger for it. (Adjectives are describing words, for those of you who weren’t listening in school.) Same goes for adverbs.

3. Use Contractions

Compound verbs are your friends, people. Don’t say ‘has not’, say ‘hasn’t’. That’s the only example I’m going to give you. I’m sure you can figure the rest out for yourself. Take a look through Untamed Writing (and even this point alone) and you’ll see them littered everywhere.

4. GET RID OF THAT

The word ‘that’, I mean. It can usually go. ‘That’ is a devious word that will make your writing sound more stilted. Uh, except when you use it like I just did, obviously. Protip: if you can remove it and the meaning stays the same, you can ditch it. But if you remove it and the sentence no longer makes any sense, as would be the case with the sentence I just wrote, keep it, silly.

5. Remove Conjunctions

Conjunctions are words like ‘and’ and ‘but’. But you must be careful when cutting them out, else you’ll end up with the dreaded comma splice. Instead of straight up removing them, you’ll need to rephrase things a bit. So, ‘He ran faster than the speed of light and splatted when he accidentally hit a lamppost’ would become, ‘Running faster than the speed of light, he splatted when he accidentally hit a lamppost.’ I don’t necessarily think this trick makes your writing any better, but it is a way to reduce your word count, so it could be handy on strict assignments.

6. Remove ‘The’

This will not apply in many instances, but you can sling it into your bag of tricks for later. Instead of saying ‘The sunlight brightened the room, making her hangover ten million times worse,’ you could say, ‘Sunlight brightened the room, making her hangover ten million times worse.’

7. Get Your Plural On

Say ‘writers’ instead of ‘a writer’. Bonus points for avoiding the whole ‘”their” used in singular cases’ thing: ‘A writer who doesn’t know how to spell their own name will not be very successful’ becomes ‘Writers who don’t know how to spell their own names will not be very successful.’

8. Use Succinct Phrasing

So you could say ‘alternatively’ instead of ‘on the other hand’. (Having said that, I would almost always say ‘on the other hand’, because that’s… well, that’s what I would say.) Here’s a superior example: say ‘he was punctual’ instead of ‘he arrived in a timely fashion’, because that is definitely better.

9. Avoid Cliches Like the Devil

Hahaha, see what I did there? Ahem. Anyway, wouldn’t that have been more to the point if I’d simply said ‘avoid cliches’? Yeah. Cliches are just phrases that have come to mean a particular thing (actually, they often don’t even mean anything), so isn’t it better to just say the particular thing instead?

10. Be Confident and Assertive

Quit saying ‘maybe’ and ‘perhaps’ and ‘possibly’. Own your god damn words.

Bear in mind that these tricks are not necessarily designed to make your writing better (although most of them will), but to reduce word count. I don’t apply all of them to my own writing, because they’re not necessarily my style, which is important to me. But if I were on a super tight word count, I’d consider rolling them out. So: approach with caution.

Photo by Terry Johnston.

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