I wasn’t expecting to find the Holy Grail at ACP. But I did.
I discovered it during the “Write Tight” session led by Steven Elliot. Elliot spoke about the challenge to “tighten” up your writing. If you don’t speak journalese, that translates to “be concise and get rid of all those damn adjectives.” As a creative writing major and a journalism minor, I sometimes struggle to keep those two voices different. Every now and then (and by that, I mean ALL OF THE TIME) my creative writing style leaks into my journalism and I find my articles unintentionally full of flowery details and extra words.
In “Write Tight,” Elliot gave a list of fantastic tips — what he calls the “Ten Commandments of Tight Writing” — to be more concise and eliminate fluff. With clips from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail interspersed throughout his slideshow to illustrate each Commandment, Elliot was a fun and engaging speaker. Some of my favorite Commandments included “Thou shall read thy copy aloud,” which instructs writers to read their articles aloud and ask if it sounds like a real person talking as opposed to fancy-shmancy jargon; “Thou shall trim the fat,” a reminder to avoid redundancy; and “Thou shall not use clichés,” which made me embarrassed by how many times I’ve used the phrase “At the end of the day…” at the end of a story.
Looking over the notes I furiously took during “Write Tight,” I find that the most helpful part of the session was the writing challenges/exercises Elliot suggested, including writing haikus to practice being concise and eloquent in very few words, as well as only tweeting in complete words and sentences to get in the practice of keeping your writing short and straight to the punch (which also served as another reminder of what an old lady I seem like for not knowing how to tweet).
Elliot also suggested watching a movie scene — specifically an action-focused scene with little to no dialogue — and writing/reporting it, which serves as an exercise in tight writing as well as showing rather than telling the reader. I can’t wait to try these exercises out and suggest them to the writers that I work with at The Campanil.
So, at the end of the day…Wait, no. Just NO.
Suffice it to say, Steven Elliot certainly has found the Holy Grail of tight writing.
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