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I had a professor, once upon a time, a guy named Jim Guetti. He was possibly the best writing coach I've ever had. You took his classes for the privilege of submitting works for him to gut with a red pen. If you turned in a thousand words you'd get 800 back; or 600 if you were a wordy bastard like me. He was without mercy: if the word did not add something worthwhile, he'd cut it out.

In memoria of a magnificent bastard and a fellow Wittgensteinian, here are two wholly unpolished paragraphs from my rough draft folder...Help me find the unnecessary words. (I may not be able to resist jumping in and putting up my own comments...I know that's tacky, but it's taking a ton of self control not to fix the obvious problems.)

I used to love running on the beach. It was best in the winter, when the grey skies and cold air kept the beaches clear. Run as far as you could, marking the perfect sand with the print of your shoes, and then turning, and following your prints home. Alone with the waves and the birds.

I remember running, and finding myself racing a storm. The wind blew hard at my back, but I ran pace with it, so the air seemed still and silent. The world was quiet, and yet the storm was rolling in across the ocean. A violent storm, stacked black clouds walking on stick-legs of lightning. And it was frightening, and yet I laughed with the joy of it. Of being young and fleet and running to beat the wind.

Feel free to be mean. I can learn from mean.

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As a sidenote, I think this is a great example of what is on-topic in terms of this kind of thing (see meta: meta.writers.stackexchange.com/questions/58/…). It's specific, short, and extremely helpful. –  justkt Dec 3 '10 at 14:26
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+1 good question that lead to really good answers –  slashmais Dec 6 '10 at 13:05
    
One can learn from mean... namely, who's mean. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 9 '11 at 1:57
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We are considering locking this question; it is not a good example of questions appropriate for our site. See the Meta discussion: meta.writers.stackexchange.com/questions/577/… –  Standback Jul 5 '12 at 16:23
    
@standback: Suit yourself. I didn't even know this site was still here. –  Satanicpuppy Jul 9 '12 at 17:09
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I used to love running on the beach. It was best in the winter, when the grey skies and cold air kept the beaches clear. < This is fine.

Run as far as you could, marking the perfect sand with the print of your shoes, and then turning, and following your prints home. < This, on the other hand, is clumsy. It's something I'm terrible for, cramming too many concepts into one sentence. It causes problems because in this sentence you start with "Run" but then you are "turning". To stick with the concept it should read: Run as far as you can, marking the perfect sand with the print of your shoes, then turn and follow your prints home. Conceptually I would tend to mark the experience out differently. The joy of marking the perfect sand with your prints is one experience, the experience of following the prints home is entirely another. Both are equally valid in mood terms, so I would actually make care to give them each a separate sentence.

Alone with the waves and the birds. < Not a sentence. Also maybe ocean instead of waves? I realise the sensory intention is auditory. Also you come back to talking about yourself in the head of the next paragraph whereas you've just been saying "you". This sentence is trying to bring it back to I, sort of, and also adding another leayer of experience into the first paragraph.

Ironically I think that this first paragraph probably needs revising and expanding. You have a soup of concepts, experiences etc. and they're all running over one another. Concision is not just about being efficient it's also about choosing the appropriate amount of words for your communication. I think that you have more to say to set up the final paragraph. Maybe, like a person who is running in the sand the prose should start a bit slow and then rev up to pace itself into a clean finish.

If so I would go for a structure like Paragraph One: experiential paragraph talking about tactile things like sand in your toes. Paragraph two: mix the tactile with the auditory go from the wind whipping over your skin to the sound of the waves to the cries of the birds. Paragraph three: Finally, visual mixed with memories. Racing the storm and seeing the black thunderheads and the soupy water of the ocean. Just a suggestion for expansion should that be your desire. Then at least you will be able to shoot for a concise style while at the same time parcelling up what you are trying to get across by sensory experience across nicely flowing paragraphs.

I remember running, and finding myself racing a storm. < I remember when I found myself racing a storm. We get that you are running.

The wind blew hard at my back, but I ran pace with it, so the air seemed still and silent. < The wind blew hard at my back, I ran pace with it to make the air still and silent. (Avoid things "seeming" like other things a strenuously as possible, language without seemed is almost always more evocative and dynamic. I am terrible for this and have had to close crop work for the word seems, seemed and seeming so many times.)

The world was quiet, and yet the storm was rolling in across the ocean. < Slight re-order: The storm was rolling across the ocean, yet my world was quiet. (Might use "calm" instead of quiet, but this is up to you. Just seems more lyrical to me.)

A violent storm, stacked black clouds walking on stick-legs of lightning. < This one was violent, stacked black clouds on stick legs of lightning. (Although I'm not sure about the lightning thing... but this is personal preference. To me it makes me think of the storm being a daddy long legs or something. Personally I experience ropes of lightning thrown from the bottom of black thunderheads but this is an entirely different image, so I guess it proves yours is evocative. Probably best to leave as is.)

And it was frightening, and yet I laughed with the joy of it. Of being young and fleet and running to beat the wind. < It was frightening, yet I laughed with the joy of it. I was young and fleet and could run to beat the wind.

HTH

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Don't you think "best in winter" is better than "best in the winter"? –  Jeff Yates Dec 3 '10 at 18:39
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Actually all of the "the"s are optional in that sentence. I have no great problem with it either way. –  One Monkey Dec 5 '10 at 2:27
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I just don't like your sudden switch from the first to the second persona in the first paragraph. Stick to the first persona. And can't you just say "I loved to run"?

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I think I kinda like it, actually. Strange how that works. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 20 '10 at 16:23
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I used to love running on the beach. It was best in winter, when grey skies and cold air kept the coast clear. I'd run as far as I could, marking the sand with my shoe prints before turning to follow them home.

I once raced a storm. The wind blew hard at my back, so I ran until the air seemed still and silent, chased by stacked black clouds on stick-legs of lightning. I was scared, yet I laughed with joy. The joy of being young and fleet. Of racing the wind and winning.

[Changed to first person, emphasised the race against the storm, and simplified sentence structure.]


Original:

I used to love running on the beach. It was best in the winter, when the grey skies and cold air kept the beaches clear. Run as far as you could, marking the perfect sand with the print of your shoes, and then turning, and following your prints home. Alone with the waves and the birds.

I remember running, and finding myself racing a storm. The wind blew hard at my back, but I ran pace with it, so the air seemed still and silent. The world was quiet, and yet the storm was rolling in across the ocean. A violent storm, stacked black clouds walking on stick-legs of lightning. And it was frightening, and yet I laughed with the joy of it. Of being young and fleet and running to beat the wind.

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"keeping the coast clear" is not the same as "keeping the beaches clear", but by a long shot. When editing, don't change the meaning. You actually wrote your own story, you didn't edit. (Some others here come close to same sin, and yes, it's a sin. No editorial meddling, please) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 20 '10 at 16:25
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I used to love running on the beach in winter. Grey skies and cold air kept the beaches clear. Marring the {[perfect] may not be an unnecessary word but an unhelpful one. What does it mean? find a more concrete word} sand as I ran as far as I could, alone with the waves and the birds, I would turn and follow my footprints home.

I remember racing a storm. Wind hard at my back, I ran pace with it, so the air seemed still and silent. Despite that quiet, the storm rolled in across the ocean. Stacked black clouds walked on lightning-stick-legs. It was {[frightening] another word that doesn't mean enough. Is there a way you can show the fear?}, and yet I laughed. I was young and fleet and running to beat the wind.

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Oh, and check your comma usage. I'm atrocious at it which is why I didn't do anything with it. However, it looks like you have a few extraneous ones in there. –  foggyone Dec 3 '10 at 20:37
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I used to love loved running on the beach. It was best in the winter, when the grey skies and (1) cold air kept the beaches clear. I Ru *ra*n as far as you I could, marking the perfect sand with the print of your shoes shoe prints, turning ed, and following your ed my prints home , a Alone with the waves and the birds. (2)

I remember running, and finding myself racing a storm. The wind blew hard at my back . , but I ran pace with it, so the air seemed still and silent. The world was quiet , and yet t . T he storm was rolling in across the ocean. A violent storm, s Stacked black clouds walking ed on stick-legs of lightning. (3) And it was frightening, and yet I laughed with the joy of it. O of being young and fleet and running to beat the wind.

  1. Doesn't seem like the key detail in the sentence. Cold air is enough.
  2. Keep the tenses consistent.
  3. Don't tell me it was violent. Don't tell me it was frightening. Don't use general reference pronouns. Describe what you saw.
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Nicely commented. Easy to see the changes –  erikric Dec 4 '10 at 13:02
    
Disagree with some (not all, not most (I think)) of your changes. It changes the style of the piece radically. Might be your style, but is it Satanicpuppies? <Comments about editors elided> –  Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 20 '10 at 16:22
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Inspired by your second-person turn, I switched the whole thing over to that voice. I fear that in my reworking I may have made it too much "mine," however. Still, maybe you'll find something worthwhile here.

Beach-running is best in the dead of winter. Mark the perfect sand with your shoe-prints; later, follow yourself back home. Commune in solitude with the waves and the gulls.

Now race the approaching storm. Run with the wind until the gusty air falls still and silent at your back. Roiling black clouds advance across the sea on stick-legs of lightning. Laugh uneasily with the joy of being young and fleet and running to beat the storm.

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Thanks (and an upvote) for the "too much mine", for realizing this, see my comment about editorial meddling above. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Dec 20 '10 at 16:27
    
It is a pitfall of mine to not always respect the fine line between editing and rewriting. A word here, a word there, then another word here and another word there, and before long there are none of the original writer's words left. That said, I think I do a pretty good rewrite. :-) –  kindall Dec 20 '10 at 17:00
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In contrast to others here, I don't think specific edit questions are appropriate for this site, so I will answer your question in a general (do-it-yourself) way:

This is a method from Andreas Eschbach. If you know German, read the original text.
I will only summarise it here:

First print out your text (yes, you need it on paper). Pick a small text passage you can easily overview and go through all of the following 10 points with this passage. Then pick the next one. Use different colours for marking your text and for editing it.

The 10 marking steps by Andreas Eschbach:

  1. Strike through the first paragraph of a scene from upper left to lower right.
    Think: Do you really need it? Often the first paragraph is used to "warming up" while writing. Could you put the info into later sections?
  2. Strike through all adjectives and adverbs
    Think: Can you use a more precise noun/verb instead using the adjectives/adverbs?
  3. Mark all dialog decorators (like he said, he replied, ...) with wavy lines.
    Think: Can you delete them without puzzling the user? Can you replace them with actions (instead of: "Are you sure?" asked Peter => use: "Are you sure?" Peter scratched his head. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.)?
  4. Mark filler words and imprecise words (some, quite, rather, several, few, ...) by drawing a box around them.
    Think: Normally you can just delete them or make them more precise (Only a few people ... => Only ten people ...)
  5. Cross out concurrency indicators (during, while, ...)
    Think: Often it could be better to write things that happen simultaneously in two different sentences: "She cried while he beat her." => "He beat her. She cried."
  6. Mark passive sentences with a small "P" above them.
    Think: Often the active form is better (more action): New Orleans was devastated by a hurricane. => The hurricane devastated New Orleans.
  7. Mark long sentences with an "L" above the sentence.
    Think: Make them shorter! No-one likes to read long sentences (except your English teacher in school maybe).
  8. Mark long dialogs with an "LD".
    Think: Can you shorten them or divide them into several parts?
  9. Mark indirect perception with a jagged line, like "watched" and "asked" in these examples:
    "He watched, how the woman crossed the street joining the spectators there. He asked himself, what was going on there."
    Think: Do you really need it? Why? Does this sound better: "He watched the spectators on the other side. Another woman crossed the street to join them. What was going on there?"
  10. Search paragraphs where you wrote the same thing with different wording. Mark it with wavy lines at the sheet margin:
    "She hit him a second time. Another time she stroke the club on his head."
    Think: This looks like you were searching for the right expression while writing. Nothing wrong with that, but only keep one of them.

After you have done that, you have to edit your text according to these markings. Main goal: Deleting! Get rid of the crap!

Then take your correction and read it aloud. Does it sound good? No? Change it!

The last step is comparing the new with the old version. If you find out, that you edited this paragraph to death, use the old version ;)

Translated by me by courtesy of Andreas Eschbach

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You may not think they're appropriate but some of the best stuff on this site so far is under this question... crazy ou quoi? –  One Monkey Dec 6 '10 at 11:42
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.. or how to self-edit - very useful guidelines. –  slashmais Dec 6 '10 at 13:06
    
Thanks @John Smithers, this is awesome. –  MGOwen Dec 8 '10 at 1:12
    
You're welcome, @MGOwen :) But translating it was easy. The main work did Andreas Eschbach. –  John Smithers Dec 8 '10 at 8:47
    
What a great resource. –  Aerovistae Mar 17 '12 at 17:26
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Your original could be used as an example in the 'tell don't show' category of writing. Never worried about making something mine, here's my 'edit.'

The sound of the slamming door lodged in my spine. For a time, I stood on the lawn trapped in nothing but myself. Mindlessly I counted the blank windows on the front of the house. Seven. And seven again. Then the vision of my old running shoes spattered with tar and neglect in the trunk of the car rose in my mind. I drove to the beach without even checking that they were there and put them on again as though I'd never stopped putting them on.

The beach stretched away under grey skies, a blank page. A fist of storm formed in the south, fractured by lightning. Birds passed over me, escaping. I named the storm Mona and ran towards it. One foot followed the other in a memory that came from the meat of me, my hips, my breathing. As I passed under the first veil of rain and darkness, a joy welled up in me, and I thought, Maybe I'm crying.

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Here's my stab at brevity:

I ran alone on the winter beach racing the storm home.

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