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Monday, January 9, 2017
Edit Edit Edit
The famously shrewd wit Mark Twain once advised writers to "Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be." To be fair, many students writing at the high school level may not yet have a healthy fear of adverbs. But in college essays, there is no single act as crucial as excising needless words.
At the practical level, students need to learn how to keep it simple. It's rare to find a university that accepts an undergraduate essay of longer than 650 words. Many universities require pesky supplements-often as short as 150 words. Brevity is an effective straight jacket.
Still, what I see in many student essays are hundreds of itinerant words in search of a purpose. Often, teenage writers get mired in the challenge of picking a topic. They understand the weight of import of the admission essay. So they tie themselves in knots trying to brainstorm the perfect story, where no such thing exists.
There are stories lurking in every corner. It may be about that patchwork quilt on your bed that your grandmother stitched for you. It could be that time you got your remote-control drone caught in your neighbor's tree. What it shouldn't be is 500 meandering words bookended by lots of "verys".
Twain's admonition to strip words had to do with the very character of the narrative. For college hopefuls, shedding needless adjectives will help force them to get to the heart of the story. It will necessarily suffocate platitudes, forcing the writer to say something of true import.
And if none of this made any sense-my take-away is simple. Edit, edit, edit. Sleep on it. Pass your essay around to friends, family, teachers; I promise they will see things that you cannot. But remember not to lose your voice. It isn't necessarily what you write about, but how passionately you write about it. "Very" is not a passionate word. Get rid of it, and move on.
Labels: Edit Edit Edit
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