When you face a writing assignment with a word count of 250, do you clap or groan? For me, writing with a short word count is much more challenging than writing with a long one.
For several years the editor of a popular anthology invited me to submit 225-word devotions for her consideration. â€śTwo hundred and twenty-five words?â€ť Iâ€™d say. â€śI canâ€™t even build a porch with fewer than 225 words, and you want me to build a whole house?â€ť Crafting a devotion with a hook, scriptural insight, personal application, and conclusion in only a few hundred words seemed impossible.
But I took the challenge. My first attempt tipped the word count scales at an obese 350. I tossed out one of my favorite illustrations. That shaved off 50 words. I reworked the conclusion. Down 25 more. I briefly considered cutting the Scripture verse, but realized that would defeat the whole purpose. My moment of insanity, however, revealed to me how attached I had become to my well-turned phrases. Cut my words or Godâ€™s Word? Uh . . . why am I even asking this question?
As I examined my dumpy devotion looking for traces of literary cellulite, I was surprised at what I found. Muffin top metaphors. Saggy similies. Portly prose. Roly-poly rhetoric. Chubby conclusions. My devotion, I discovered, needed much more than a nip and tuck. It needed gastric bypass.
- Focus on one main idea. Think snapshot, not panorama. Throw out anything that doesnâ€™t directly support your main point.
- Choose one verse, the strongest one that supports your premise. Resist the urge to throw the whole Book at your readers.
- Eliminate wordy, conversational phrases. (â€śIn my opinion,â€ť â€śIt appears to me,â€ť and â€śItâ€™s come to my attention,â€ť are common examples.) These add unnecessary inches to your writing waistline and make your work bulge.
- Substitute strong verbs for adipose adverbs. If you carefully select your verbs, you wonâ€™t need most adverbs. (â€śJean silently and slowly walked toward John,â€ť becomes â€śJean crept toward John,â€ť saving you three precious words.)
- Cut most uses of the word â€śthat.â€ť Read the sentence aloud. If it makes sense without â€śthat,â€ť you know the word is dead weight. â€śToâ€ť is also often extraneous. (â€śLord, help me to pray more,â€ť becomes, â€śLord, help me pray more.â€ť)
These tips will help you tone and tighten your prose, whether youâ€™re squeezing your thoughts into a Size 2(00) devotion or donning a billowy 3XXX teaching piece. Just like wriggling into jeans two sizes too small, writing tightly will be painful at first. But unlike those too-tight jeans that hinder your movement, cut off your blood flow, and make you grumpy, changing saggy writing to svelte will force you to write better, think more creatively, and feel more confident about your writing.
Christian Devotions (300-400 words)
Light From the Word (200-400 words)
The Secret Place Â (100-200 words)
The Upper Room Devotional (~250 words)
Lori Hatcher is the editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine and the author of two devotional books. Her second book is Hungry for Godâ€¦Starving for Time, 5-Minute Devotions for Busy Women. A blogger, writing instructor, and womenâ€™s ministry speaker, her goal is to help women connect with God in the craziness of life. Youâ€™ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for Godâ€¦Starving for Time. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter (@LoriHatcher2), or Pinterest (Hungry for God).
Lori is a graduate of Christian Communicators speakers training conference and has taught at the Christian Communicators ADVANCED Conference.
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