Portly Prose – Does Your Writing Need a Diet? by Lori Hatcher

Pig PixabayWhen 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. “Two hundred and twenty-five words?” I’d say. “I can’t even build a porch with fewer than 225 words, and you want me to build a whole house?” 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 God’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.

Here are five tips I applied to trim the fat from my writing:
  • Focus on one main idea. Think snapshot, not panorama. Throw out anything that doesn’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. (“In my opinion,” “It appears to me,” and “It’s come to my attention,” 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 won’t need most adverbs. (“Jean silently and slowly walked toward John,” becomes “Jean crept toward John,” saving you three precious words.)
  • Cut most uses of the word “that.” Read the sentence aloud. If it makes sense without “that,” you know the word is dead weight. “To” is also often extraneous. (“Lord, help me to pray more,” becomes, “Lord, help me pray more.”)

These tips will help you tone and tighten your prose, whether you’re squeezing your thoughts into a SizeHand holding scissors 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.

Now, if you’re up to the challenge of writing a 200-400-word devotion, check out these fine publications:

Christian Devotions (300-400 words)

Light From the Word (200-400 words)

The Secret Place  (100-200 words)

The Upper Room Devotional (~250 words)

Lori Hatcher-1Lori Hatcher is the editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine and the author of two devotional books. Her second book is Hungry for God…Starving for Time, 5-Minute Devotions for Busy Women. A blogger, writing instructor, and women’s ministry speaker, her goal is to help women connect with God in the craziness of life. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God…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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Happy Writing!


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  • Nan Jones

    Lori, what a great post!! I could see your cute self and hear your sweet voice teaching us. Thank you. I, too, have been learning to chop “that” and “to”. Great advice.

  • Lori, thanks for the great tips for writing short. I’ve recently started looking for the extra “thats” in my writing. Most times, they can be removed.

    • Lori Hatcher

      Sandy, I cut “that” out of my writing more than any other unnecessary word. But the more I do it, the more conscious I become of overusing it, and the less I have to cut. You’ll find the same happens for you. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Yes, I was glad Lori covered it as well. I have a writer friend with lots of traditionally-published books under her belt, and she told me that one time she eliminated a page and a half from her final manuscript, simply by searching for and removing “thats”!