You can almost always make your writing instantly stronger by chopping out the first paragraph or so. Andrew Gordon reminded me of this powerful and simple editing step when he reviewed an ETR article I’d written.

Take a look at the beginning of the original article:

How to Defeat a Sneaky Enemy of Good Writing

Strong writing can instruct, persuade, and inspire. Weak writing bores your reader into falling asleep or – worse – looking elsewhere. So you want to make your writing as powerful as possible.

One of the biggest enemies to fine writing? The verb “to be.” In all its tenses, this verb can leach the impact out of almost any sentence. It sometimes seems impossible to avoid, but you need to seek it out and destroy it with a vengeance.

Andrew said, “Drop the first paragraph. It’s strictly a warm-up act.”

The revised article gets to the point much more quickly:

How to Defeat a Sneaky Enemy of Good Writing

One of the biggest enemies to fine writing? The verb “to be.” In all its tenses, this verb can leach the impact out of almost any sentence. It sometimes seems impossible to avoid, but you need to seek it out and destroy it with a vengeance.

There’s nothing wrong with easing into your subject when you sit down to write an article, report, or business memo. In fact, I highly recommend doing the warm-up… in your first drafts. It can help you get started – which is often the hardest part of writing. Plus, it can build momentum so that, once you reach the “main act,” you are in top writing form.

But listen up: The warm-up is solely for you. Your readers shouldn’t see it.

As novelist Robert Heinlein said, “The most important lesson in the writing trade is that any manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat.”

Cut the warm-up. Begin with the meat. Your readers will thank you for it.

Comment on this article