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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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    Art Carden

    Art Carden is an Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

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    Last Updated on March 25, 2020

    How to Crush Your Lack of Motivation and Always Stay Motivated

    How to Crush Your Lack of Motivation and Always Stay Motivated

    How many times have you not achieved your goals and let yourself down due to your lack of motivation? When you’re not wallowing in sadness and self-pity, you are too busy procrastinating till you can’t anymore and before you know it, you are part of vicious cycle of anxiety and stress.

    Whether it’s losing weight or bringing your business to fruition – motivation is essential for growth and success in every sphere of our lives.

    That said, it is not easy staying motivated. In order to constantly stay motivated, you need to take ownership of your life and consciously make efforts in that direction.

    Well, it’s never too late to take matters in your hands and change the course of your life. Here are 11 effective ways to crush your lack of motivation and always stay motivated:

    1. Write Your Goals

    The power of writing goals down has always been underestimated. Why write when you can remember, right? Wrong.

    Our thoughts are all over the place and the first step to achieve your goals is to organize your thoughts. So, write your goals down, however big or small they might be. Make them as specific as possible and assign deadlines to each of them.

    As you write them down and revisit them regularly, they get further drilled in your head, taking you closer to your goals. Doing this small exercise helps you to remain focused, motivated and lets you track your progress with ease.

    Start today – take to your laptop or a diary and get down to writing what you wish to achieve in life.

    2. Beat Procrastination

    Your lack of motivation and procrastination go hand in hand. Every time you procrastinate, your motivation levels take a greater hit. The only way to bring an end to this loop is to stop procrastinating.

    Next time you find yourself putting off something for ‘later’, stop and assess the reasons behind it. Get to the root of the cause and eliminate it in order to overcome this poor habit of procrastinating which is sabotaging your life and mental health.

    Take a look at this guide and learn how to beat procrastination:

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    What Is Procrastination (And the Complete Guide to Stop Procrastinating)

    When you finally overcome procrastination, you will realize the positive impact it has on your mood and motivation levels.

    3. Celebrate Small Wins

    In the quest to achieve the bigger goals in life, we often forget to celebrate the smaller wins along the way. An achievement is an achievement – be it big or small, it deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated.

    Finished a project on time? Reward yourself. Managed to run on the treadmill for a good one hour? Pat yourself on the back. Found time to meditate? Celebrate it.

    It is these small achievements that reinstate that we are on the right path and take us one step closer to the bigger goals.

    So, get into the habit of recognizing and appreciating small wins. You will be surprised to see how this practice helps you stay motivated.

    4. Practice Gratitude

    It’s easier to whine about what we don’t have rather than counting our blessings. Isn’t it?

    Making gratefulness a part of your life is a very important step to retain high motivational levels. It revitalizes our spirits and renews our enthusiasm for life.

    So, how do you practice gratitude? For starters, keep a gratitude journal to jot down what you are grateful for, express your gratitude to people you love and spread positivity wherever you go. If you need some inspiration to be thankful for, here it is:

    60 Things To Be Thankful For In Life

    By doing so, you begin to focus more on what you have rather than what you don’t and that is a great start to stay motivated.

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    5. Be Optimistic

    Life is not always hunky dory. There will be bad days when things aren’t going in your favor, when you feel lost and all you want to do is give up.

    At such times, instead of letting negativity take over your life, adopt an optimistic approach to life. Quit overthinking, ask the right questions and focus on finding solutions.

    Yes, there will be hurdles along the way but if you hang on to positive affirmations and hopes, the journey will be a lot smoother. So, with every passing day, sow the seeds of positivity and you are sure to build a positive environment around you.

    6. Don’t Dwell on the Past

    A lot of times, our lack of motivation stems from the habit of dwelling on the past. This gives rise to fear and regrets, preventing us from making progress in the present day.

    Dwelling on the past is nothing but a waste of time. Understand that the past is long gone, and you cannot do anything to change that.

    What you can do is make your present day worthwhile. Instead of looking back and having regrets, learn from your mistakes, forgive yourself and move on.

    So, the next time you find your mind wandering off to the past, be determined to change the way you think and consciously concentrate on living in the present. This guide can help you:

    10 Simple Steps To Let Go Of The Past

    7. Face your Fears

    You can never find motivation where there is fear. Identify the fear that is pulling you back and tackle it.

    If you don’t face your fear head on, you cannot expect to conquer it and renew your motivation.

    Ask yourself: What is stopping you? What are you scared of?

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    Once you accept your fear, you can work on an action plan and think of solutions to overcome it. This article will give you some effective tips on conquering your fears:

    How to Overcome Your Irrational Fears (That Stop You from Succeeding)

    Seek external help if required but don’t choose to turn a blind eye over your fears – it will only aggravate matters.

    8. Visualize your Success

    You must have heard the famous quote, ‘see it to believe it’. That is exactly what visualization is about.

    One of the most effective self-motivation techniques, visualizing the process to your desired outcome helps you move in a positive direction and achieve your goal.

    Close your eyes and focus all your energies on the minutest of details that will take you where you want to reach. Doing this exercise everyday inspires you to keep going and not lose hope. The vision of attaining success will drive you to do better while instilling belief and confidence.

    9. Find Inspiration

    Can’t seem to find inspiration inwards? Don’t panic. There are plenty of external sources to gain inspiration from.

    From motivational books and quotes to speeches, films and apps – it is a good idea to take help from motivational material to rekindle your spirits and regain your motivation.

    Everyone is wired differently. For instance, a self-help book might work for your friend, but it might do nothing to move you. So, find what inspires you and turn to it when you are in desperate need for motivation.

    Finding inspiration externally fills you with hope and sometimes that is all you need.

    10. Enjoy Downtime

    You are clearly exhausted with all the running you’re doing in life. So much, that you don’t even have time to stop and think what’s causing you so much unhappiness. All you know is that you are lacking motivation and everyday seems to have become a struggle.

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    Now, that’s certainly not how you should live the rest of your life.

    You need to schedule downtime for yourself, relax and give your mind and body some rest. Take a vacation, indulge in hobbies, meet some friends, put your hair down and stop with all the overthinking. It is important to do things that make you happy in order to think clearly and stay motivated.

    11. Meditate Regularly

    Meditation lets you take control of your mind. It improves focus and concentration while helping you relax.

    Whenever you have had a tough day or find your thoughts going places, the best way to calm yourself down is by closing your eyes and meditating. It helps you to remove all the unnecessary frills in life and keeps you on the right track.

    Include meditation in your daily schedule and you are sure to see an improvement in your productivity and motivation.

    The Bottom Line

    Practicing these simple exercises isn’t the tough part, what’s tough is religiously doing them every day.

    However, don’t expect to get rid of your lack of motivation overnight. There will still be days when you will be low on energy but by making these conscious efforts to stay motivated, you are sure to see a vast change in your perspective and your response to bad days.

    So, start today and be committed to making a positive change in your life.

    More Tips About Staying Motivated

    Featured photo credit: Sonnie Hiles via unsplash.com

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