How to Fix Over-Writing

In the thirty years or so that I’ve written for publication, I’ve learned to write a decent phrase. But often, I try to cram too many of them into the same sentence. Over-writing reduces effectiveness.

Writing Tip for Today: Let’s examine some ways to avoid over-writing:


When writers stuff their prose with too many descriptors—modifiers, similes or metaphors—the result can be chaos on the page. Readers struggle to discern what’s important. With too many ways to make prose understandable, readers may give up altogether.

When you draft (create), it’s fine to put down every thought, phrase and comparison. Just remember that you’ll need to cull your work in revision. Writers who try to write and edit simultaneously are either highly skilled or (many times) stumped. For most writers, the two phases need to be kept separated by at least a day. That way, you gain a bit more objectivity, which helps you revise the way a reader needs to see your work.

Remember, you are your readers’ manager. By carefully choosing descriptors and illustrations of your point, you guide readers to pay attention to one thing and not another. You’re subtly showing readers what to remember, where to draw a conclusion and how to interpret the passage you’ve written.

Pick the Best One

I’ll never forget the day a mentor of mine told me to “pick the best one.” I’d overwritten a paragraph and the images, in descriptors of simile and metaphor, weren’t doing what I’d intended. Instead of stressing a point, I had muddied the waters. With too many similes or metaphors, readers struggle to identify the one image they can take with them.

Over-writing tends to take your scene or paragraph to places you didn’t want to go. Instead of narrating in a clear voice, your work turns into a cacophony of yelling reporters. Reporters compete to get a person to respond to their topic or question, but many times all anyone hears is a noisy crowd. You don’t want your words to out-scream each other.

Draft all the possible ways to illustrate your point, to call attention to an element of the work. Let the piece or scene sit for at least a day. Then, revise by choosing the strongest of all the stuff you threw in. Read the work aloud using different phrases and determine which gives you the most emotional bang for your buck.

Choose carefully the modifiers, metaphors and similes you want to use. Pick the best one.

Switch Hit

Prose that overuses simile or metaphor becomes predictable and therefore, numbing. Take a look at your use of these literary devices and try to vary your use of them. Be careful with devices such as onomatopoeia (successive words starting with the same letter), and use trendy or slang words sparingly (they’ll seem dated quickly).

Evaluate your use of modifiers. Writers are taught that adverbs (ly words) are not our friends, but we should also be on the lookout for patterns such as continual use of double adjectives, qualitative general words such as big, small or tiny or even instances where too-specific illustrations (he moved one point five inches to the left) might stop readers. Better to compare items with known quantities that readers can instantly picture (his hands were the size of a toddler’s).

When you over-write, you give your readers too many choices. With too many decisions to make, readers become exhausted. Remember, less is more. As your readers’ manager, you want to orchestrate a reading experience that’s full of surprises, but not the over-writing kind.

Take a look at your work-in-progress? Do you spot any over-writing? Revise, revise, revise.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

6 comments on “How to Fix Over-Writing

  1. Lovely Linda Clare. For some reason I loved reading your words. Am dyslexic. Nothing but “Ds” in college this subject, but I fell in love with your phrasing and flow. I also learned why I write the way I do. I wish you lived next door. Revise, revise, revise.

    • Hi Michael,
      Thanks for your kind words. I just write ’em like I see ’em. Thanks for reading my work and
      Keep Writing!

  2. Well said, Linda! I try to communicate this to other writers, but you explained it so perfectly! I’m
    sharing this with my critique group now.

    • Oh Mel you are so generous. I try to help. I’m happy to hear that you’re shepherding other writers.
      Good on ya!
      Much Love,

  3. I enjoy reading your posts and have learned so much. Thank you! We all like the cat pictures too even though Gizmo says there aren’t nearly enough of him.

    • Robin,
      Thanks so much for your encouragement. My hubby is in the hospital after a car accident so no Tips this week. I hope to be back soon. He hopes to make a full recovery.
      Keep Writing!

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