How to Tighten and Fine-Tune Your Writing

Morgan Danielle

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I had a professor who was well-known as being an all-around prick, as many English Composition professors tend to be. I dreaded his class and his holier-than-thou attitude.

At the time I was only concerned with my final grade. Now, roughly three years later, I am beginning to appreciate what this professor taught us with his dreaded one-page papers. That’s right, you had to argue your point in exactly 500 words. If you ventured ahead of the limit you would get points deducted for each extra word.

I’m long-winded by nature. This professor presented me with the first problem I had faced in an English classroom, paring down what I was attempting to say into one concise page while still making a strong argument and giving an articulate and educated insight on the topic.

We argued about gun control, abortion, homelessness, and more. These big-ticket issues that could easily evolve into an hour-long debate had to be conformed to fit a single sheet of paper.

To survive that semester I developed a system of writing and editing that went a bit like this four-step process:

1. Research Intensely

You need to be able to sit down at the keyboard and not reference a single source until after you have frantically placed your thoughts onto the page. You must become an expert and earn the credibility to talk about each and every experience, thought, or premise you are describing. So learn your shit, folks.

2. Start Long

This seems counterproductive, right? If you’re an overwriter, don’t pen an entire novella. That’s not the point. You need to get all of your thoughts onto paper. Don’t worry about making it wordy and intelligent, just put pen to paper and word vomit your argument.

3. Edit Hard

Pretend you’ve never read this paper in your life, much less wrote it. In fact, pretend this is the paper of that annoying kid that sits behind you and it always asking ridiculously obvious questions and offering unneeded snide remarks to the narrative. You are editing his paper and you fucking hate that kid. Take a red pen to that sucker and — Mark. It. Up. Strip the paper down to its core. That is where you will find your completed masterpiece.

4. Re-Read It Multiple Times

But you’re not done yet. You better re-read that paper until you have dreams about it and until you can recite it backward while cooking dinner for your in-laws who are questioning your ability to cook without so much as stumbling over a single syllable. Give it to your best friend, give it to your boyfriend, read it to your cat. Make sure that it sounds fluid and to the point. If somebody gets bored and looks away midway through a sentence, review that sentence.

As you can tell. I am still learning and developing even seven years after this lesson was taught to me. But this paper is right at 500 words, so maybe I have picked up on something.

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