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Improve Your Writing With Word Limits

Improve Your Writing With Word Limits

    Here’s a scenario that might sound familiar: you are listening to a speech or presentation, or perhaps you are reading an article, an essay, or a report, and it becomes clear that the writer is using words without communicating.  Some essays, articles, and books might be pleasant to read because the language is colorful, and a speaker might make pleasant, sincere-sounding noises.  No doubt some of your my writing or speaking can be described this way.  If you don’t think yours can, just wait.  As you improve, you will expect more of yourself.  One way to improve is to practice writing with word or character limits.

    This matters in the idea-driven economy.  Consider George Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language.”  Words mean something.  Words are important.  Orwell argues that language should be “an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.”  Much could be accomplished with better writing, and yet quantitative social scientists, for example, try to earn status by one-upping one another with technical and mathematical sophistication.  Humanists try to out-jargon one another.  Important ideas are obscured by the impenetrable clouds of unclarity.

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    What can you do about it?  Try writing with hard word limits.  Give yourself a lower word limit than you might find comfortable.  Allow yourself to write a rough draft that is as long as you want it to be.  Then, when you’re editing, try to cut it down below the maximum word count.  If you’re writing a 10,000 word article, try to cut it to 9,000 words.  If you’re writing an 800-word op-ed, aim for 700 words.  Trim an essay with a 1500 word limit to 1200 words.

    There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, your readers’ time is valuable.  Second, it forces you to confront trade offs in every sentence.  If you’re trying to trim a 1500 word essay into a 1200 word essay, you have to ask yourself at every juncture whether you can make the point with fewer words.  You will be shocked at how much you can tighten your prose without losing anything.  Indeed, tighter, punchier prose will improve the quality of your exposition.

    An exercise might help.  Consider that last sentence: “Indeed, tighter, punchier prose will improve the quality of your exposition.”  I wrote it on a plane from Omaha to Memphis while my brain was toast, and it shows.

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    Let’s improve it.  First, drop “Indeed” because it adds nothing.  “(I)mprove the quality of your exposition” is a long way of saying “make you write better.”  So let’s try some revisions:

    “Tighter, punchier prose improves your writing.” (better)

    “Tighter, punchier prose makes you write better.” (awkward and clunky—it sounds like a lesson plan for the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Who Want to Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too)

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    Perhaps this: “Punchy prose makes good writing.”

    There’s no objective right answer.  You have to play around with it, but as the cliché says, easy writing makes for hard reading.

    You might also want to experiment with character and syllable limits. Orwell said to avoid using big words.  In the sentence we were critiquing above, “exposition” was a clunky, four-syllable way of saying “writing.”  Always use the easier word.

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    To write well requires dedicated effort.  I don’t claim to have mastered it.  Approach it like topiary.  Or bonsai gardening.  Or sculpture.  Or painting.  Or whatever.  As a writer, you are a skilled artisan.  Words are your medium, and you use hem to communicate information, evoke passions, and stir the consciences of your readers.  Get to work.  Change the world.  And take heart: you’re always improving.

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    Last Updated on September 17, 2018

    7 Signs of an Unhappy Relationship That Makes You Feel Stuck

    7 Signs of an Unhappy Relationship That Makes You Feel Stuck

    Relationships are complicated and when you’re unhappy, it can be difficult to tell what’s causing it and what needs to change.

    Sometimes it’s as easy as opening up to your partner about your problems, while other times it may be necessary to switch partners or roll solo to get your mind straight.

    When you’re in the thick of things, it can be difficult to tell if you’re unhappy in your relationship or just unhappy in general (in which case, a relationship may be just the cure you need).

    Here’re signs of an unhappy relationship that is possibly making you feel stuck:

    1. You’re depressed about your home life.

    No matter what you do in life, you’re going to have good and bad days. Your relationship is no different.

    However, no matter what you’re going through at home, you have to feel comfortable in your own home.

    If you constantly dread going home because your significant other is there, there’s a problem. Maybe it’s something you already know about, everyone has an argument or just needs some alone time.

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    When that yearning to be alone becomes an insatiable obsession over the course of months and years, it’s time to realize you’re not the exception to the rule.

    You’re unhappy in your relationship, and you need to take a look in the mirror and do whatever it takes to make yourself smile.

    2. You aren’t comfortable being yourself.

    Remember all those things you discovered about yourself when you first got together? The way your partner made you feel when you met that made you fall in love with him or her in the first place.

    If they don’t make you feel that way anymore, it’s not the end of the world. If your partner makes you uncomfortable about being you, then her or she is only dragging you down. It’s up to you to decide how to handle that.

    You need to be comfortable with who you are. This means being comfortable in your skin and with the way you walk, talk, look, breath, move, and all the other things that make you uniquely you.

    If the person who supposedly loves you doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, know that you can do better. They’re not even one in a billion.

    3. You can’t stop snooping.

    Mutual trust is necessary in any relationship. The only way to get that trust is with respect.

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    I can find you anywhere online, no matter how private and secure you think you are. The odds of you having a password I can’t crack are slim. If we’ve met in person, I could install a remote key logger on your device without even touching it.

    Finding your information online hardly takes a clandestine organization. Any idiot with a Wi-Fi-enabled device can cyberstalk you. I’m just the only idiot in the village admitting it.

    So now that we know everyone snoops, it’s time to address your personal habits. Governments snoop because they don’t trust us. If you’re snooping on your partner, it’s because you don’t trust them.

    It’s ok to have doubts, and it’s perfectly normal to look into anything that looks weird, but keep in mind that data collection is only half of an investigation.

    If you find yourself constantly snooping and questioning everything, clearly there’s a trust issue and the relationship likely needs to end.

    4. You’re afraid of commitment.

    If you’ve been dating longer than a year and you aren’t engaged, it’s never going to happen.

    Commitment is important. People will come up with a million ways to describe why they can’t be committed.

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    No matter who you are if you like it, you need to put a ring on it. Find an engagement ring, stick a gemstone in it and marry the person. If you’re not legally able to get married or you don’t believe in it for one reason or another, have a child (or adopt one, however you’re able to) or treat your partner’s family like your own. It’s a huge financial and mental commitment.

    If you’re not ready for one or the other after some time, don’t waste anymore of your precious life on the relationship.

    Your relationship should be something that propels you forward. If it’s not going anywhere, make it an open relationship and call it what it is—dating multiple people.

    5. You imagine a happier life without your partner.

    If all you’re doing is imagining a happier life without your partner, it’s a sign that you’re in the wrong relationship. You’re unhappy and you need to get out.

    Your partner should be included in your dreams. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a future with someone.

    Try to remember what you dreamed of before you got your heart broken by the realities of life, love and the pursuit of human success.

    Remember when you would crush on that cute kid in class? You would secretly imagine marrying him or her and going on an adventure—that’s the way life should be.

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    If you’re not at least imagining adventures together, then why are you in that relationship?

    6. You resent, rather than love your partner.

    When a relationship starts to crumble, you begin to resent your partner for all the things you once loved about him or her.

    When you’ve reached this point, your partner has reached at least No. 2 on this list. From your partner’s perspective, your unhappiness with them is picked up as bashing them for being who they are.

    If you’re both unhappy in the relationship, it’s better if it ends as quickly and painlessly as possible.

    7. You chase past feelings.

    It’s okay to reminisce about the past, but if all you do is wish things were like they used to be, it’s a sign you’re not on the right path.

    You’re unhappy and, at the very least, you need to have an open dialogue about it. This isn’t necessarily a sign that the relationship should end, but it definitely needs a spark.

    When you talk to your partner candidly about what it is you’re looking for, you never know how they’ll react. The risk alone is worth it, good or bad.

    Final thoughts

    If you’re feeling stuck in your current relationship, it’s time to reflect about it with your partner. Don’t ignore these signs of an unhappy relationship as they will slowly go worse and harm both you and your partner in long-term.

    Featured photo credit: josh peterson via unsplash.com

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