Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

It’s Time to Declutter Your Writing

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This is Day 11 in the Great Writers series. Are we having fun yet? If you’re signed up for daily emails, reply to this message and tell me how it’s going.

No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.
—Fake Ernest Hemingway (via Midnight in Paris)

Declutter Badge

Stephen King calls it “killing your darlings.” I call it cutting the crap.

Bottom line: There’s a lot of junk that gets in the way of good writing. And you have to kill it. Get rid of it. Totally annihilate it.

If you are going to write well, you must make your writing clean. You must get rid of the clutter.

There are two important actions you must take in order to do this.

Clean your workspace

Back when I was growing up, every summer my dad and I would undertake a major project. One year, we built a fence. Another, we dug a pond.

Before we would get to work, though, my dad would always ask me to complete one very simple, but necessary task: He’d ask me to clean the shed.

At the time, I hated it. I loathed pulling out all the tools, wiping the cobwebs out of the corners, and doing the mundane work of making sure we had everything we needed.

But now I understand what my dad was trying to teach me. Before you can get to work, you’ve got to get your tools in order. Same goes for your writing or any craft for that matter.

Before you can do the work of creating anything, you’ve got to clear off the desk and get your stuff in order. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but your mess isn’t helping you; it’s not contributing to the creative process. And you need to stop hiding behind it.

Get rid of non-essentials

I’m talking about the actual writing here. Erase all the lazy words and phrases, which fluff up your writing but add nothing to the content.

Kill ‘em, kill ‘em all.

These fancy turns of phrase and flowery pieces of prose are getting in the way. Distracting the reader from what you really want to say. And frankly, you don’t have time for them.

The challenge

So let’s declutter today, shall we? In every sense of the word. I want you to do two things:

  1. Clean up your space. Spend some time (at least five minutes, but no more than 30) doing the following: clear off the desk, sharpen your pencils, put your files in order, take out the trash, wash the dishes, whatever. Do what you need to do to feel better about the place where you do your work.
  2. Cut your writing down to its purest essence. Turn a 500-word article into 250 words. If you’re brave, convert 1000 words into 300. Take away everything but exactly what you want to say. Eliminate weak, lazy words like “that” and “things” and anything you don’t absolutely need. Then say what you have to say and be done with it.

Then share what happened: What was your decluttering like? Tell us in the comments. And if you’re blogging through the series, be sure to join today’s linkup.

About Jeff Goins

I help people tell better stories and make a difference in the world. My family and I live outside of Nashville, TN. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. Check out my new book, The In-Between. To get exclusive updates and free stuff, join my newsletter.

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  • http://twitter.com/findotitihere Otiti

    Oye ve, this is a tough one! That’s some fierce de-cluttering, Jeff. *gulp*

  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry Carter

    Jeff, when I first started writing a blog four years ago, I thought I had to write everything I knew, and somethings I didn’t, about every subject.  I remember thinking that my 800 word post wasn’t long enough.  Now, I shoot for 300 to 500.  I just try to cover a piece of every subject.  People just don’t have time to read long tomes in  my blog.   I even have a post coming in a couple of days called  A Minimal Mini-Festo.

    • http://aparchedsoul.com/ Grayson Pope (A Parched Soul)

       Mini-Festo…love it.

    • Katina Vaselopulos

      Where can we read that post?

      • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry Carter

        Tomorrow at deuceology.wordpress.com

        • Katina Vaselopulos

          Great! Tomorrow! Thanks for letting me know!
          Good luck!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      nice. looking forward to that, Larry. be sure to share it with the community.

      • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry Carter

        I’ll post a link when it comes out. I think it’s tomorrow.

  • http://nmetzler.com/ Natasha

    Always the hardest part of writing. Cutting the things you love most. *sigh* 

  • http://aparchedsoul.com/ Grayson Pope (A Parched Soul)

    I’m a wordy guy, at least when it comes to writing. When I started blogging I would write what seemed like feature length article for Vanity Fair. But I’m not Vanity Fair. And no one read them. So I started cutting them down to 300-800 words. I added headings and subheadings, bullets, and bolded what was important. And people started reading. The content makes much more sense without all our silly qualifying phrases and throw away lines.

    • Katina Vaselopulos

      Grayson you described me! Very difficult to be laconic when I write.
      I am doing a guest post in a few days…Should it be around 500 words? I like the way you stuctured you article…Should guest posts be the same?

      • http://aparchedsoul.com/ Grayson Pope (A Parched Soul)

         When doing a guest post, you want to make sure you are matching the style of the site you’re posting on. But in short, yes, I would keep it between 500-700 words. I prefer the formatting I mentioned, but again, the blog you’re submitting a post to may want to reformat.

        • Katina Vaselopulos

          OK! Thanks! I’ll find out how they want it. Will you read my post and comment on it? This is my first time and I am kind of nervous. I will let everyone know when and where.

          • http://aparchedsoul.com/ Grayson Pope (A Parched Soul)

            I would be glad to. Good luck!

  • http://lanearnold.co/ Lane

    Less brings forth more, I found.  Thanks for the challenge, Jeff. 
    1. The desk is less a mess thus I can stay more present to the task at hand: editing my upcoming book.
    2. I turned the more of my first post of 593 words to the less of 101 words at lanearnold.co/blog. Here’s the difference with the same essence:
     http://lanearnold.co/editing-process/      

    http://lanearnold.co/edit-two/  

  • http://STGrimes.com/ STGrimes

    When I made te decision to be a writer I picked up a book called “The Elements of Style.” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. The book has some great examples on how to write well. It also has a section that addresses decluttering your writing. I recommend it.

    • ashleigh dean

      I love that book!! Part of my job includes editing business plans and this book sits out right next to me the whole time. Oh, and I like reading it for fun!

    • http://www.innerwits.com/ Dawn Epstein

      Required reading my sophomore year in high school, that book changed my writing life, and lowered my tolerance for fluff. I aspire to be worthy of it!

  • http://profiles.google.com/rondesgr R D

    Done. 

    (… what was left of my comment after severe editing.)

    • http://www.kellycombs.com/ Kelly Combs

      Ha! Great RD. So funny because I just left the longest comment ever, and thought “I should declutter this.” 

      • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

        hah!

    • Cushionedasphalt

      Good one. I like it.

    • Beth

      Lol that’s great!!!!!

  • http://www.delemares.wordpress.com/ sandra delemare

    Oooops. This is the message that’s been coming at me all year – mainly about the house.
    I’m getting better at it with my writing.
    Years ago I used to write a lot of letters to a local paper (most of them were printed) and I had to aim at getting what I wanted to say into 150 or max 200 words (or else… the subeditors would get at it).
    Out had to go the ‘it seems’ ‘possiblies’ ‘many people thinks’ – I had to make bold statements, no qualifiers – which tended to generate opposition – which in turn led to some interesting debates.

  • http://www.kellycombs.com/ Kelly Combs

    Jeff – this is so important! The very first piece I submitted for publication was originally 3,000 words and I sliced it to 1,500 and submitted it. The publisher loved it BUT said it was much to long. Would I edit it? 

    I was shocked. I felt like I’d deleted (“decluttered”) every thing I could. How could I remove more and still tell my story? Then a good friend shared something that changed my editing life.

    “Just because it is important to you, does not mean it is important to your reader.” Simple, yet profound. That gave me permission to delete things that I liked but that didn’t change the integrity of my story. This was especially important to me, as the article was my personal testimony and every word mattered TO ME.

    When I was done I submitted a 700 word article and it was published in P31 Woman. My first publication.  DECLUTTER your work! Deleting something doesn’t mean it isn’t important, it just means your reader can still get the story without it.   Great post!

    • Nancy Slocum

       Great word, Kelly!  Thank you so much.   I needed to hear it.

    • Katharine Trauger

      Kelly, I agree with your quote. Sometimes what we cut is important, completely important to the writer, for core understanding. We must use the words we present, though, to create that understanding as natural fruit in the reader, instead of pasting apples onto him. Naturally-grown fruit remains; pasted-on fruit falls away.
      It is difficult for me to realize my reader may be able to grasp a concept without me spoon-feeding him.

    • tannis

      Kelly that was great advice from your friend. I do have pieces that I didn’t submit because I had a hard time cutting words. I will keep this advice in mind and get back to those! Thanks!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      I love that quote.

    • http://www.economicliferecovery.com/ Nicholas Brack

      As a copywriter, I was taught to use the thumb test.  

      If you put your thumb over a line … and the thought or idea flows from the line above to the line below … cut what’s under your thumb out.  It only distracts the reader’s attention and gives them a reason to stop reading.

  • http://jkflickinger.wordpress.com/ Judith_flickinger

    Have always “killed my darlings”.  Not that it was easy, mind you. I love my characters and their actions but sometimes you just have to show them who’s boss. I once cut 15K from a story line in one of my wips.  It was taking me to all the wrong places so it had to go but there is a secret about cutting , too. I took it out but I did not delete it.  I saved it under another file and then realized it would make a good start to  its own story.  Kill but recycle.  That’s my motto. 

    • http://www.transformationaleditor.com/ SuzanneG

      Judith, I love “kill but recycle.”   I’m going to adopt your motto.  I’ve got that other folder, but it’s named “stuff cut from somewhere.”  How much more hopeful is “recycle”! 

  • MelissaThinks

    I recently had two paragraphs in a blog post that I was so in love with. I saved to draft and came back to it an hour later and knew that I had to let them go. They were just window dressing and didn’t serve my readers. I saved them in a document I named “pretty but useless” LOL

    • http://jkflickinger.wordpress.com/ Judith_flickinger

      “Pretty but useless.”  I so am going to steal that for my files! 

      • http://jkflickinger.wordpress.com/ Judith_flickinger

        Actually, I may just “borrow” it and tweek it.  My file now reads: Brilliant but useless.  Makes me feel better about the little darlings.

    • http://rebootingworship.com/ Jamie Kocur

      Awesome.

    • tannis

      Love it, yes I am going to have a file on my computer now called Pretty but Useless!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      love that, Melissa!

  • http://twitter.com/lornafaith Lorna Faith

    I know I use the words “that” and “things” alot on my blog posts:(  I think I have alot of unnecessary words even in my current MS. So I’m bookmarking this post and I’ll go through the current posts I’m writing…double checking! but first to clean my desk…you’re right I do need to get rid of the clutter :-)  Thanks for the great post as usual Jeff!

  • Nancy Slocum

     I was making a mental note of all my physical clutter just before opening today’s challenge, so it hit the bull’s eye.  I have work to do before I can get to the real work!  Sigh.  I need polishing here.

    I did make some progress cutting the clutter in the intro and back cover to my upcoming book. 

    Thanks for keeping us on track, Jeff.  Your Dad was a wise man. You’ve learned well.

  • cushionedasphalt

    I seem to be able to act out the future because last Sunday I went through my kitchen and gave it a DEEP clean and also fixed up my backyard!

    http://explanation-not-relevant.blogspot.com/

  • John B

    I was recently criticised for some writing. I realised this was a result of not de-cluttering my mind before I wrote it all down and then not de-cluttering the writing itself. I just let it spill out onto the page with little thought to the reader or how interesting it might be for them.  Lesson learnt and it fits nicely with the theme of day 11.

  • joyceglass

    This is a tough one for me, but I am getting a little better. I took a college advanced writing class the helped me with the art of delete! If I did not feel I could completely part with my words I made a section down at the bottom of the draft for them. Rarely did I put any back.

    Thanks for the reminder! I am having trouble cutting the words down for an interview post. I made it into two post, because I did not know what to let go of. It is even harder to cut someone else’s words!

  • Linden Barrick

    Today’s challenge made me put on the brakes. It’s my first day of summer vacation from teaching and I woke with grandiose ideas of today’s potential word count. After reading the challenge, I instead put dishes in the dishwasher, moved my laptop from the couch (too comfy) to the desk, found socks to warm my chilly and distracting toes, logged into an educational math site on the desktop to keep my son busy, and as soon as I finish this post, I will begin EDITING instead of writing. I’m going to declutter my previously rejected first chapter of my WIP even more and SHIP it again. And again. And again. Decluttering every step of the way. 

    • http://www.bethcoulton.com/ Beth

      Like you, this is my second day of vacation from school and I too used to wake with the same grandiose ideas.  My son just graduated from high school last week (our last to do so), my college daughter is only home for one more week, I’m exhausted from working this past school year, so I decided to take this week “off” (but still write) and just enjoy the frivolity of zero schedule.  That helps me to slow cook my ideas throughout this week so I’m ready to roll next week when the house is quieter (my 21 year old daughter is delightfully bossy and loud – she’s going to make a great teacher.) 

    • http://www.kristibutler.blogspot.com/ Kristi

      I’ve been out of school for a few weeks. You’ve given me fresh inspiration. And I’m heading from the recliner to the kitchen table! Thanks, Linden!

      • http://www.kristibutler.blogspot.com/ Kristi

        OOps. Sorry for the sideways photo. I was hoping to get it up beside my comment where that unidentified man is. :)

        • http://oneconfusedlady.blogspot.com/ LeaveAMark

          OHHH I’ve been trying to figure out how to do that! Please tell me! I recently got a Gravatar, but have no idea how to link the photo to my comments. Thanks!

  • Katharine Trauger

    (There’s) a lot of junk (that) gets in the way of good writing — I agree.
    Although I’ve known this truth for years, here is how a learned to believe it:
    While I was writing a Bible study, I had an opportunity to teach two of its seven chapters in two, 45-minute workshops.
    Knowing the neediness of my audience inspired me to keep it lucid while remembering the clock forced me to keep it short.
    The results amazed me.
    I threw out entire concepts – good ideas that time would not allow– and consolidated every core truth with its neighbors. It was not a shorter, but a re-constructed version, wholly unlike my writing, but, unexplainably superior.
    Now to tackle the rest of the book.

  • spyrie

    I know this is off-topic and I apologize, but this is the best writing community I know of.  What do you do when you submit a piece and someone changes something?  Like an album review, and you attribute a significant part of a significant song to the correct person, but someone edits it to give credit incorrectly?
    My name’s attached to this thing I spent weeks refining, and it’s been made invalid by a single inaccuracy I didn’t even perform.
    I’m honestly vacillating between posting a response saying “Wasn’t me!” and just waiting for the site’s owner to fix it.  It’s probably an honest mistake, but this is the first time someone’s changed my words without telling me.
    Not sure how to handle it.
    And sorry for being off-topic.

    • Katina Vaselopulos

      Spyrie, I feel badly for what happened to you…The way you feel is understandable. But don’t “hide” and don’t give up.  Talk to the site’s owner…maybe he has no idea of what  happened…and see how things can be corrected.  I am not knoledgable in such matter.  Hopefully someone else and Jeff will be able to give you good advise. My best to you!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Good question. I was going to say, “Get used to it.” People changing your words is just part of getting published. But if someone misquoted a song or major work, you need to let them know about it. Have they not been responsive? (FYI: I wouldn’t publicly blast them or say it wasn’t you. That seems a little petty. I would try to relationally resolve it first.)

      • spyrie

        Yeah, I’m not going to visibly defend myself in any public forum.  As much as my ego twitches with each possible viewing, I think I’d rather have people on the internet think I’m an idiot than actually behave like one.
        The thing that irks me isn’t that my work is being modified.  If I submitted a guest post here – for example – Jeff could rearrange things for clarity or fix grammar or move paragraphs and that would be his prerogative.
        If I said “John Lennon wrote All You Need Is Love” and Jeff changed it to “Elton John invented the Moon”, then that would be different.
        And that’s (exaggerated) what this has become.

        • http://twitter.com/eccle0412 Jackie Anderson

           “I’d rather have people on the internet think I’m an idiot than actually behave like one.”
          That may have to be tweeted!

  • http://susanstilwell.com/ Susan Rinehart Stilwell

    I’m a technical writer at heart, and have always written tight. Recently I started trying to stretch out my writing, but there’s definitely a balance. Well-chosen words are critical!

    • http://www.kristibutler.blogspot.com/ Kristi

      Okay, my techie friend, help me get my photo to the right place, please. That man beside my comment is stalking me!!

      • http://www.kristibutler.blogspot.com/ Kristi

        Yay! Thanks!!

      • http://susanstilwell.com/ Susan Rinehart Stilwell

        I’m so proud of you :) 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003751280274 Laurie Grathen

    I saw a T-shirt the other day: “Being a writer is 5% skill and 95% not being distracted by the internet”.  It hit uncomfortably close to home.  

    I set up an elderly computer not good for much except word processing in an out of the way corner in a room not used often.   It minimized all distractions and maximized my writing focus.   Interestingly, uncluttering the physical space helped unclutter my writing.

    • http://www.bethcoulton.com/ Beth

      I want that t-shirt.

  • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

    I used to think that my physical environment had no effect on my creativity or productivity. It seemed almost like a silly superstition – but man, I’ve found it makes such a difference.
    And it’s not just the physical space, but so many other factors. Sometimes it helps to just play some music, relax for a minute or two, and declutter my mind.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      agreed

  • http://www.abidingingrace.com/ A. Gonzales

    Geesh!  This is going to be very difficult but I’ll do it.  I realize the reason I love your blog and your books so much is because you don’t bore me half to death with all the fluff and stuff.  You quickly get to the point, make it simple and end it.   Before this challenge I had already told myself I’m striving to be this way as well.  I used to strive for more words, thinking this made my writing better but I’m realizing people don’t have time to read 2000 word articles and blog posts.  Not going to be easy though, I tend to ramble on in my writing…kinda like now.  O.k, I’m done:)

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    Two books on the subject that may be of help. Stein on Writing, and On Writing Well by Zinsser. Enough said…

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      love it.

  • http://jkflickinger.wordpress.com/ Judith_flickinger

    My take on declutter.  jkflickinger.wordpress.com

  • http://twitter.com/MelodyAWriter Melody Michelle

    This is the hardest habit for me to overcome. Hopefully today I can take a step in the write direction with this! :)

  • http://twitter.com/MLSchwienD Michele Schwien

    Jeff, your father taught you well with that shed. 

    I cleaned my desk and cut several elements out of the my table of contents. I feel energized! 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      very cool.

  • http://rebootingworship.com/ Jamie Kocur

    A few weeks ago, my creative space was cluttered. It was not helping the creative flow. I cleaned up and felt much better.

    Cutting down my writing is a continual struggle. I err on the side of wordy. I used to write 1000 word blogs. The only person who was going to read them was my mom. Shorter is better.

    This morning I took a future blog post and cut it from 470 words to 218. It was difficult, but the more I read through, the more I realized how unnecessary so many of my words are. 

    And I cut this comment from 150 words to 108.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      hah! awesome.

  • http://www.bethcoulton.com/ Beth

    This is perfect for me, and very timely.  I have three adult children but they all still live at home…and my middle child just moved back  in from her college apartment.  She brought home two car loads of stuff to our already full, small ranch house; we fit it all in, but her room had been my office.  I moved my desk into my bedroom and now have a new “office” space, and it’s been bugging me lately.  As I sit at my computer, I have a gorgeous country view out my picture window, but I feel there’s too much “stuff” all around me.  For days I”ve been thinking- I gotta get to that desk and DECLUTTER!

    Oh, and declutter my writing, too.  I’m getting better. It ain’t easy.

  • http://twitter.com/JulieSunne1 Julie Sunne

    Great advice–so difficult to do. Heading off to sharpen my knife to cut, cut, cut! Thanks.

  • tannis

    Oh this is a biggie! Clutter, clutter be gone! I am also a paper crafter, and in the middle of teaching workshops, I have a mess. This is a challenge for sure. Jeff your dad taught you well with that shed.

    I strive to be better at this, when the physical clutter gets to be too much, I take my laptop and go to my friendly neighborhood Starbucks! Cutting wods, a bit more of a challenge. I have taken your lazy words and put them on a post it, and keep it close for a reminder of the the words NOT to use, at all or at least not as often. Thanks Jeff, you ROCK!

  • http://crazyintrovert.com/ Glori | Crazy Introvert

    You know what, your Weak Words article is a part of my checklist.
    I think I’m getting the hang of uncluttered writing. as for my work space… I’m on it boss! LOL

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Very cool, Glori. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.redletterbelievers.com/ David Rupert

    Yes. Workplace clutter is important to get rid of. I also have mental clutter — things left undone. So I make a list, and then put it aside. When something enters into my mind, I can quickly get rid of it by adding it to the list.

  • BethanyAustinSmith

    At work yesterday, I took a fourteen page page project and turned it into an eleven page project. It took all day! =)

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      wow!

  • http://bewriting.wordpress.com/ Rachel Kain

    I wrote a guest post (that will go live tomorrow!) that was 1300 words when I started. I knew I needed to trim the fat. I got it down to just about 900 words–more than 33% less. It was hard, because I really did love some parts that I cut, but I had to decide if the expository info was as important as the conclusion. I decided it wasn’t, and did my cutting there. I hope it’s well received!

  • http://FreddieTeague.com/ Freddie Teague

    I do this. But not as effecientally as I would like. Looks like I needed this one.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      cool.

  • CaroleSmith

    I am wondering if “clutter” is a writer’s curse?  I am a clutter-bug, but know that it for sure kills my creativity!  Self-destructive, or just part of the creative’s curse?  Thank GOoDness I found Sarah Mae’s 31 Days to Clean Reboot and am doing at the same time!

    http://sarahmae.com/  

  • http://growwithstacy.com/ Stacy Claflin

    I must be in tune with the challenge today, I spent about 30 minutes decluttering before I turned on the computer! It’s amazing how that can help the mental energy.

    I also agree with decluttering the writing too. I’m working on the first draft of a novel and though I’m about half way through I’m already mentally figuring out what needs to go when I revise the story. Most likely much of the first several chapters which seemed to be more for my own understanding of the characters. That’s why Mr. King says to first write with the door closed! :)

  • http://marleeward.com/ Marlee

    Hi Jeff!
    I love this advice. Especially the clearing your work space concept. I found that my environment dramatically impacts how I feel about my work and the kind of work I’m doing. It’s like having a clear space facilitates a clear mind. So important. 
    The brevity thing is something I’m still working on. I’m conversational and verbose. Brevity is not my strong suit. But practice makes for improvement, right?! :)

  • Lisa R

    I blogged about today’s challenge here. http://writewhatyouknowdotorg.wordpress.com/
    This reminded me of when we had to declutter our entire house last year—painful but necessary, just like it is with writing. If I haven’t said it before, Jeff, I’ll say it again. Thanks for this challenge. It has been just what I needed.

    Question–I haven’t been getting the daily emails about this although I am signed up by email. Is there something I need to do differently?? Thanks.

  • http://timewithtracy.com/ Time With Tracy

    This reminds me of an episode of Downton Abbey when Violet shows a shocking letter to Cora. “Skip ahead to page 2! My sister never uses one word when twenty will suffice.”

    • http://www.transformationaleditor.com/ SuzanneG

      :-)

  • http://www.economicliferecovery.com/ Nicholas Brack

    “Shorter [writing]… doesn’t mean less responsibility, less insight or less power. It means less fluff and less hiding.”                                                                      -Seth Godin

    Little quote from Seth I have as an email signature … I thought it apropos.

  • http://www.danapittman.com Dana Pittman

    Urgh….

  • http://unknownjim.com/ Jim Woods

    I lean toward the minimalist approach with writing  (my last blog post had like 50 words I think but in my brain it feels like or reads like  1,000) yet I have all of this other clutter around me in my life. 

    Obviously there is a direct relationship between the two;  I need to be as consistent in my life as possible to avoid chaos, confusion and disorder.

    • http://www.themakegoodchoicesproject.org/ Michael Hawkins

      My last post was short, too. I love it.

  • http://www.themakegoodchoicesproject.org/ Michael Hawkins

    White space is a lovely thing.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      indeed

  • http://sparkvoice.wordpress.com/ DS

    A mountain of writing work awaits my declutter project.  Is it okay to be scared?

    • http://www.bethcoulton.com/ Beth

      oh, I wish I could help you with your mountain - I love to edit OTHER PEOPLE”s work – it’s just my own I struggle with! 

      • http://twitter.com/eccle0412 Jackie Anderson

         Really? I have a 2 page  double spaced “Purpose Statement” that I wrote for a grad application. I need an editor!

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      yup

  • http://talesofwork.com/ kimanzi constable

    I wrote a small piece for a group writing project and it’s two pages too long! I’m going in right now and cutting the “fluff”, great post Jeff.

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      good for you, Kimanzi.

  • Sharyn

    I feel, more often than not, I have the opposite problem. I worked in radio for almost a decade, where you tell stories in 30 or 60 seconds. (A 60-second spot takes about 180 words.) Which means I often feel I’m not including enough to flesh out the story. Of course, that comes down to what you don’t tell in radio: descriptions, setting … basically anything related to the senses other than sounds. So I regularly go back and add that in. . . .

  • http://www.coffeepotchronicles.com/ Kim

    I have 5 drafts sitting in my blog dashboard right now and I’d wager my rent at least 3 of them are over 500 words. Time to declutter!

    And while I’m at it…I need to publish a post!

    • http://twitter.com/eccle0412 Jackie Anderson

       I can relate. Clean and ship. A new thought on “ship shape”.

  • http://twitter.com/ThePaulSims Paul Sims

    I used hedge trimmers instead of Roundup on the last entry in the hoarding series: http://thepaulsims.posterous.com/confessions-of-a-hoarders-son-part-viii but I did eliminate a few extraneous words. And as for the work space, I’m a recovering hoarder’s child so there are challenges there. But I’m putting papers where they should go for now and my work space as it is now will then be reasonably clutter-free.

  • http://www.moriahesther.wordpress.com/ MoriahEsther

    Wonderful encouragement for a Tuesday morning.  I deleted at least 15 uses of the word “was” in one piece.  Thank you.

  • http://www.thecolorsofmysoul.com/ Lena

    Motivating and inspiring. Love your writing style. 

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      thank you, Lena!

  • http://www.geekywriter.com/ Romy Singh

    Now I’m going to clean my mess. 

  • J Kendall Author

    I have been following this series since day 1
    and have been blogging along with you each day.  I have a feeling that you
    have spent some time in my head and at my desk!   So many of the topics
    you have hit on seem to speak right to me and problems I have been
    having with my writing.    Thanks for the
    great lessons.

    J Kendall, Author /Artist

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Thanks! great to have you. :)

  • panangler

    Today I took one of my old stories, roughly 7000 words, and got it down to ~4800 words.  Is it shorter? Yep. It is better? I don’t know… 

    I’m all for cutting out the lazy, repetitive, nonessential words. It never fails to surprise me at the number of extraneous words that creep into my writing, even though I think I know better.  I wonder if I could write a macro that prevented me from typing the word “that?”

    But I am starting to wonder if the popular mantra of “removing the clutter” from your writing isn’t  being over-emphasized. Lots of white space can also just mean you don’t have much to say… 

    I know, I know, readers today have short attention spans and you have to grab them by the short hairs with your title and the opening paragraph or *poof* they are gone.  Maybe that is an issue we should work on addressing?

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephenie.hovland Stephenie Hovland

    Guess what, Jeff! I shipped something. I queried some ideas for an editor I already have a relationship with. And now, I have a contract in-hand and am busy working on the manuscript. Thanks for the challenge!

  • JamesPrescott77

    Okay, well I got a post I’m going to publish later this week and got it down from 900 to 600 odd words. If I’d taken any more out I wouldn’t have had a post I don’t think, but was impressed at how much I could take out and still make my point. Will bear this in mind for the future! Thanks Jeff.

  • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

    Great advice Jeff! I loved the analogies of your summer projects. Quick question, did you hand-shovel the pond? That’s a MAJOR project!

  • http://KatieAxelson.com/ Katie Axelson

    My desk doesn’t look too bad these days, but my blog needs some tidying up. Is that cheating? ;)

    Katie

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      not at all.

  • Carley ~from Worship Melodies

    It’s going awesome.  I am learning so much; including the fact that I was doing better than I thought I was to start out with.  I have a Christian blog, and I am getting a lot of great insight on that front as well.  Thank you so much for this challenge.  

  • http://www.transformationaleditor.com/ SuzanneG

    There were bushels more words I could have used, but I managed to say everything I want to express in tomorrow’s post in 116 words.  Whew!

  • http://timewithtracy.com/ Time With Tracy

    I cut this down from 1,000 words to 493. My first drafts are usually twice as long as the final version. http://timewithtracy.com/?p=1552

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      nice!

  • Anne Brown

    Looks like tomorrow is Provoke.  Which is how I felt today: provoked.  So, I’m provoking: somebody declutter mine: http://vagabondanne.com/2012/06/19/o-my-love-is-not-concise/

  • Carley ~from Worship Melodies

    Great exercise today.  I took a blog I wrote last year.  Original word count 434.  I cut it down to 253.  Thanks!    
    http://worshipmelodies.blogspot.ca/2012/06/great-writers-series-declutter.html

  • http://caroldublin.com/ Carol Dublin

    What a challenge. I realize that I don’t read all of other peoples’ blogs when they are too wordy, so why would someone read mine? And a couple of days ago I actually cleaned out my inbox during my writing time because the clutter was bugging me so much that I couldn’t write. The  next day was extremely prolific. Great advice!

  • http://www.facebook.com/richlionhearted Rich Proctor

     We are busting some serious clutter here at The Lionheart today.

    http://www.richproctor.com/2012/06/clutter-buster.html

  • http://twitter.com/elramey debra elramey
  • http://twitter.com/Ashley_E_Prince Ashley Prince

    Love this! If my writing space or apartment is cluttered, I can’t focus. 

    As for cutting words, I am still working on that. 

    • joyceglass

      I used to clean up my little studio apartment in college before I could study.  It felt better, but also it was a great procrastination technique too!  

      I understand.  Now, I am good to have my desk cleaned!  I have been trying for 3 weeks to get 3 months of clutter that built up while I was in school (back in college at 41).  I feel like I am shoveling sand.  Ask quick as I get rid of one pile another crops up!  

  • http://oneconfusedlady.blogspot.com/ LeaveAMark

    I just wrote something about this in my post yesterday. Actually for me a cluttered desk is not a distraction, but a dirty floor is! So I vacuumed yesterday haha! As for decluttering my writing – I started off writing poetry, so I have no problem keeping it short. However, an unusual thing happens in my blog posts – I write more than I need to. I think this is my brain’s way of making up for the short poems… I feel I have the luxury to talk forever because it’s prose, not a poem! There’s also a psychological phenomenon of compensation (isn’t there?) whereby we make up for something that is lacking in one area of our life, in another – I am rather quiet in my everyday life. So in my writing – I compensate :)

    The ONE word I overuse and can’t seem to cut or replace is “so.” Does anyone have a magic formula for another way to say ‘so’? I’ve tried “therefore,” but it’s often too fancy. Thanks!

    • joyceglass

      No need for “So”.  Most of the time that is a verbal pause when we are talking, but when reading it is more distracting.  Unless you are writing a dialogue and want that in there for some kind of emphasis.  

      That may be one of this darling words you just need to kille’em. 

      What are you trying to say when you use “so”?  Is it an action or thought.  Tell what you are trying to say. Use the action or description.

      For example:
      I told my mother we could not come up this weekend.  So, she started to rant and rave about how we never come to visit her.  

      In this instance.  If you take out “so” the sentence still works and actually makes the point without the fluff!

      So, just let go of “so.” 

      So long “so”

      Hope this helps!  

      That is another word that is rarely needed!  
      OR That is another word rarely needed.  . . .  You see! :)

      • http://twitter.com/eccle0412 Jackie Anderson

         Clean first, always. Careful to reduce what you’re cleaning too. I can start with the desk and end up distracted changing the filters in my vacuum cleaner,. When I go outside to take the dust ridden things to the trash, water the plants, pull a few weeds and talk to the neighbors I have lost the inspiration to write!

        Our family dinner conversation tonight was “useless words”. My 16 year old brilliantly questioned, ” why bleep?  Why not “pizza”? Familiarity breeds meaning which often is meaningless. We discussed ignorance as the root.
        Accountable for every careless word.

      • http://oneconfusedlady.blogspot.com/ LeaveAMark

        Thank you Joyce! I went back and looked at some of my “so’s” and you’re right, most of the time, they can be taken out. But I pulled out two examples where I used it, and you tell me if the sentence still works without the ‘so’:

        –They say it takes a month to develop a new habit right? Goins’ challenge is half of that, so all I have to do is go at it by myself for the last half. 

        –My situation is not as dire, thank God, but nonetheless it is not feasible to move right now. So here I am, and here I have been for almost two years.  

        Also, can I still use it to mean “very much”? Like “I liked the pie so much.” ??

        Thank you. I appreciate your help!

        • joyceglass

          So, Ms. So,

          You are sOOOO very welcome! ;-)

          “Goin’s challenge is half of that, now all I have to do is go at it by myself for the last half.”

          ‘Now’ shows the direction you are heading. ‘So’ just lies there like a limp rag.

          So here I am, and here I have been . . . This so provides the emphasis and a little pause you are wanting to visualize the pause in life or the moment.

          Yes, I think ‘I like the pie so much’ is good, but don’t overuse it.

          Just be aware of how many ‘so’s’ show up in your work, and look to see how the sentence can be worded differently. Ask “What is the action or thought I want to convey?” Usually a better word may pop up. Try a thesaurus to stimulate other words.

          So have an awesome day writing!

          So long! ;)
          Joyce

          PS I would love to keep in touch. You can find all my contact info on my blog http://www.joyceglass.org.

          • AnokinaS33

            Thanks! Again :) 
            Checked out your site and I love it. I’m currently working on switching to WordPress. SO much to learn! :)- I’ll definitely keep in touch.

        • joyceglass

          Anokina, your welcome!

          Glad you got a chance to check it out. I took a peek at yours too. I love your name! I feel like that most days! One confused lady!

          WordPress is a great way to make a beautiful blog. I just revamped mine in May. So glad I did. I recommend Seth Leonard’s website for great how to blogs! He helped me get my site resigned. There is some back door stuff you need help with if you are going to convert to a premium website.

          Look forward to keeping in touch!

          You can find Seth’s web address at the bottom of all my blog pages on the Blog Roll.

  • http://www.thompsonkelly.wordpress.com/ Kelly Thompson

    It’s eerie sometimes how your posts correspond with what I’m doing with my writing…before I read them! I actually started reorganizing my writing area over the weekend after realizing that I took up so much room with “inspirational and instructional”stuff that I didn’t leave myself any room to spread out and write.  I’m glad I finally realized that all I need to write is the words and a place to put them…

  • Eileen Wright

    A timely post for my life! We’ve been decluttering the house all week for a yard sale. I’ve been frustrated by the clutter of paperwork around my desk so I sit on the bed with my laptop and write. I’m going to chunk it all in a box for now so I can use my desk.

    I’ve done better on decluttering my blog. I edit several times to keep it concise. Unlike this comment.

  • http://www.bendempsey.net/ Ben Dempsey

    We recently 

    • http://www.bethcoulton.com/ Beth

      wow. that was uber decluttered.

      • http://www.bendempsey.net/ Ben Dempsey

        haha, I accidentally hit post. I wish their was a way to delete a comment.

  • http://doshaughnessy.blogspot.com/ donna oshaughnessy

    Better late than never. WHAT a day. I am committed to consistency…even if it kills me!!!!! http://doshaughnessy.blogspot.com/2012/06/toss-it-throw-it-delete-it.html

  • http://www.bendempsey.net/ Ben Dempsey

    We recently just moved, so today I finished setting up my office and worked on organizing everything to maximize my time writing.  On a side note on the left hand side of the picture on the wall was my fathers day gift from my wife and son, they framed all my featured articles.  

  • http://www.innerwits.com/ Dawn Epstein

    Loved this. 

    Hadn’t thought of sweeping my desk, but doing so tonight with your story in mind had the same antidote-to-resistance effect that sweeping my (now gone) studio floor gave me: while I sitting there, I wrote.

    Daily for the last three years, I’ve posted one tight sentence on Facebook as my status. It has been good practice. My new blog (launched during this Challenge) is a public outgrowth of that practice, (joined with my daily photo practice).

    Thank you, twice.

  • http://www.misswordy.com/ Valerie Strawmier

    I LOVE this–this is an awesome way to get started in a productive way and avoid so many obstacles! There is a similar post here about how to get started and I hope you like it as much as your own. Have a great night and thanks for posting this! 

  • http://slicedupfor.me/journaling/2012/06/18/five-year-plan/ James Holder

    Managed to squeeze the editing process itself right against the wire. Reduced the blog post below from 536 words to 283.

    http://slicedupfor.me/temp/alphas/

  • Dreamweaver526

    Stephen King also said  “When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of
    every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down
    to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but
    it must be done.” Mwahhaha! It sounds so evil put like that but it is so true. I often wonder which part he meant that “must be done”…the part about editing or the part about murdering children.

    My declutter came in the form of cyber clutter. My writing email folder was a mess. So I spent some time deleting what wasn’t necessary, filing things like 15 Habits of Great Writers into a different folder, and getting caught up on my missing days. Now it looks a little less overwhelming.

  • Pattie

    I’ve made it a habit this summer to clean my desk off every night. That way when I’m up in the morning, it’s clean. :)

  • AnokinaS33

    This challenge, for me, is so metaphorical and akin to life. I’m sure Jeff didn’t intend it in this context, but “get rid of non-essentials” can also mean knowing what is important in life, at the heart of it – i.e. ‘essential’ – and what is peripheral. Family, for instance, is essential to me, as well as love and passion. Stuff, commodity – clothes, jewelry, shoes – are peripheral. And the quote about “your mess isn’t helping you; it’s not contributing to the creative process. And you need to stop hiding behind it,” makes me think of our “psychological mess” that stands in our way of authentic connection with ourselves and those around us. How easy it becomes to hide behind it and hold it up as an excuse to sit back and not engage in our own lives. Just some thoughts…

  • http://4ambassadorsofchrist.blogspot.com/ Jarmila V. Del Boccio

    I decluttered a few days ago, before I read your post! I’ve had over 50 books of all types, sitting underneath my sitting room table. They are gone…organized into categories on various shelves in our home. Ahhh…I can breathe again. Thanks for the inspiration, Jeff!

  • http://annkroeker.com Ann Kroeker

    Sometimes it’s easier to have someone else be the bad guy…if an editor says “Cut this!” then you can be mad at her while you slash it away. It’s less painful than doing it yourself.

  • joyceglass

    WahOOOOO!  The word slayer has been working today!

    I completed the rough draft of a post.  883 words

    I slayed 268 words down to 615.  Enough slaying for today. 

    I may slay some more tomorrow.

  • http://twitter.com/BethYoung8591 Elizabeth Young

    I am slowly learning the importance of “decluttering” my writing. Thanks for this post!

  • JamesPrescott77

    Okay, here is my ‘decluttered’ post which I finally got online today – managed to get about 300-350 words off the original – http://bit.ly/NuMzm5

  • http://www.lifegasmic.com/ Dylan Lin Calista

    Sheesh. This is something I struggle with.

    I write long posts and it’s typical of me to do that because I always try to justify what I write but that only makes the post even longer.

    I’m trying to find ways to ‘cut corners’ without taking the meat off of what I want to say. I have yet to find the best way of doing this for myself. It’s a challenge but I’m getting there.

  • http://twitter.com/emilydavies85 Emily Davies

    I know I’m days behind, but finally got around to having a  declutter and creating a workspace specifically for writing. I can not tell you how much more productive I’ve been already! I posted pics on my blog: 
    http://emilydavieswrites.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/clearing-clutter.html

    • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

      Awesome!

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