Monday, November 23, 2009

A handy guide to concise writing

If you are a young writer and you have difficulty writing concisely, allow me to encourage you in two ways.

First, I assure you that you will improve steadily, year by year. Eventually you’ll be able to cut an article or chapter by 10 percent or even 20 percent, omitting no essentials. You’ll be able to do it quickly and without much hesitation.

Second, I recommend this handy guide: The Writer’s Digest Dictionary of Concise Writing, by Robert Hartwell Fiske.*

The dictionary consists of two sections. The first section is a tutorial, with plenty of examples. The second section is the dictionary proper. In alphabetical order, it lists wordy phrases and concise equivalents.

This is a reference book to keep by your elbow whenever you revise or edit.

The Takeaway: To become a more concise writer, be diligent in your revising and editing – and use The Writer’s Digest Dictionary of Concise Writing.

*I have no financial interest in the sales of this book and no financial relationship with Writer’s Digest or Mr. Fiske.


  1. As a young writer, I once turned in a 100,000-word novel that my editor said had to be cut by 10 percent. At first, I balked. My contract specified 100,000 words. But I found that when I removed 10 percent, what remained was much more concise and readable.

    I'm turning in my 22nd novel next week--Death's Disciples--but only after trimming 15 percent from it. It's my tightest novel to date.

    Next time, I'll try to trim 20 percent.

  2. Hi

    I noticed your comments about The Dictionary of Concise Writing. The Writer's Digest edition has been out of print for some years (though a few copies of it are still available on Amazon). Marion Street Press published a new, revised edition in 2002 and another in 2004. The 2004 edition, I am told, is not now easily found. I do, however, have several new copies of the MSP 2002 edition if any of your readers would like to buy it. I'll sell it for $14, plus $4.00 postage (to the U.S.).

    Robert Hartwell Fiske