Writing Tip: Pruning the Weeds

Photo 13You’ve planted many seeds with your ink; watched your sentences bloom and flourish, but now it looks a bit crowded on the page. Now what?

When our closets get a bit cluttered, we finally do that spring cleaning we put off for many seasons. When our refrigerator it too full of old, expired foods, we get rid of the products leaving bad odors. When our gardens are overrun by overgrown weeds, we must prune those unwelcomed guests.

The same goes for writing. Whether you are working on a novel, short story or poem, pruning is an important part of the process. The second phase should be when you take the time to remove those repetitive verbs, unnecessary adjectives and overused clichés. It may take reading the same paragraph or page over and over again, but it must be done.

Don’t be ashamed to use a dictionary to refresh your mind with the meaning of words, or a thesaurus to replace a few. You can swallow your pride and ask friends or family who are teachers and writers (if they are willing), to be a second pair of eyes for your work. Others may see what we miss in the editing process.

In his book On Writing Well, William Zinsser suggests using brackets to recognize clutter and his reason for using them:

“I would put brackets around every component in a piece of writing that wasn’t doing useful work. . . .  Sometimes my brackets surround an entire sentence – the one that essentially repeats what the previous sentence said, or that says something readers don’t need to know or can figure out themselves. Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the author’s voice.

My reason for bracketing the students’ superfluous words, instead of crossing them out, was to avoid violating their sacred prose. I wanted to leave the sentence intact for them to analyze.”

Zinsser’s idea was to simplify but also appreciate all the words that had to be discarded. And never use them like corporations and politicians do, to mislead an audience – a concept he calls “verbal camouflage.”

Some of the things we write just need a good cleansing. So instead of grabbing an eraser, white out or using the delete button, put those useless snippets in brackets or off to the side. You never know if you could use them later in another phase of the writing process.


Zinsser, William. On Writing Well. New York: Collins, 2006. 14-16. Print

Written by: Donna J. Sanders

Donna is a freelance writer and blogger in West Palm Beach, FL. She is the author of Ataraxia – a poetry collection about the struggles we face, the state of the world and how to see beauty in the simplest things.

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Photo Credit: © Donna J. Sanders

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  1. Writing Tip: Pruning the Weeds | TheRaven6825

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