Monday, September 17, 2012

A Nerdy Way to Polish Your Writing


I geeked out and created a tool in excel to help me polish a piece of writing. I know with the mention of excel, I’ve lost half of you, while the other half has pitched forward in giddy excitement and I’m not sure which is more alarming.

Anyone who has read my work knows there’s no danger of me becoming a slave to grammar ... (so many rules, and so few who care). Nonetheless, as a writer, it’s imperative to continuously improve and hone the craft.

At some stage in my writing, generally toward the end, I begin to worry about the things English teachers and the well-educated tell me are important. I’ll call this the polish stage. Admittedly, the amount of polishing required sometimes turns into a major rewrite.

Rational for which words to eliminate or use sparingly to make your work stronger can be found tucked inside scores of writing guides. I try to keep them in mind, but if I dwell on them too early, my creative flow suffers. That’s why I wait until the near end of a project before I scrub it clean of grammatical maladies.

I look for particular words or phrases that fall into seven buckets. It isn’t all exclusive, but it’s a good start.

  • Eliminate Clutter
  • Omit and Explain
  • Define Indefinites
  • Reduce Redundancy
  • Minimize Telling Words
  • Passivity
  • Prepositions

I run a word search for each of the words to see where I have a disproportional amount of ... fluff.

I populate a spreadsheet and turn each category into a percentage based on my total word count for the project. Then, I use the 80/20 rule with a quick glance to see where I’ve gone overboard. It doesn’t mean I’ll eliminate every, this, that was and like, but I do go back and reduce the population.

A caveat: I typically leave my dialogue alone. The last thing I want to do is make character dialogue grammatically correct.

If you want a copy of the excel spreadsheet, you can get it here. CLICK HERE FOR FILE There are two worksheets; The sample with formulas, and a blank one. Mess with them as you see fit. 

Let me know your thoughts and what you’d add.