The best of my writing is marked by a direct, concise style, and yet I confess that it seldom begins that way. In fact, I tend to “overwrite” as I discover what I want to say.  Early drafts are littered with meandering sentences in which thoughts are linked together with heavy phrasing. And of course, redundancies abound!

Subconsciously, I tell myself it’s okay. This is the stage of getting thoughts down on paper. At this point of the process, I’m writing for myself. As I move through the process, however, I begin consciously to revise with the reader in mind.

One way I revise for the reader involves “dewriting” on the sentence level.  Through the years, I’ve used Richard Lanham’s “Paramedic Method” to eliminate heavy phrasing and weak words. Lanham believed that revising the sentence was essential to writing success, and the Paramedic Method provides a clear recipe for improving sentence clarity.

Rather than not knowing where to begin editing, you’re given a fail proof recipe for slicing the “lard” off your sentences. The easy-to-follow steps help identify the “blah factor” by eliminating unnecessary words. It feels almost scientific as you circle prepositions, underline forms of “to be,” and eliminate introductory phrases.

I know I’m not alone in “overwriting”; in fact, I consider it a healthy stage for developing ideas. However, I also know that I have to “trim the fat” to achieve a direct and clear style. Here’s to polished and stylized prose in the New Year!


Anne Maxham


The Writers’ Exchange