Two actions that can improve writing are tightening and fluffing, though not necessarily in that order. If you write like Hemingway, you won’t need to fluff, just tighten. However, if you write like most, you need to do both. It really doesn’t make any difference if you are writing the Great American Novel or redoing your résumé, tightening and fluffing will improve the final product.
Start with fluffing which is more pleasurable and straightforward. Fluffing your writing means adding, intensifying, colorizing. Beef up adverbs. Affix adjectives. Include verbs that hum. Unearth words you have never used, and then sprinkle them with alacrity throughout your paragraphs. The best part of fluffing is that there is a tool to do half the job for you. A thesaurus – online or off – makes finding the right word effortless, assuming you know how to spell. Leafing through a thesaurus can also be enjoyable, assuming you are a word nerd. The problem in using a thesaurus is that you can fritter away quite a bit of time just browsing synonyms.
When you start to tighten, the work usually gets harder. Tightening means clarifying meaning, reducing word weight, and ensuring exact punctuation. While there are tools to help you tighten your writing, they are more difficult to use. Even if you did well in high school English, trying to double-check the APA or MLA stylebooks can be daunting. Heck, even re-reading your high school grammar book can be disheartening. To semi-colon or not to semi-colon, that is the question. Once you get past revising punctuation, you can start weighing your words. You tossed in a few rare ones after surfing the thesaurus. Do they overload your writing? Do they even make sense? Make certain the words you use are not those of a Cambridge don, unless you are. Finally, make sure your words convey what you want. Determining if readers understand what you are communicating is the most difficult task an author has. If you cannot edit your own work for suitability and accuracy, find someone who can.
If you think about it, tightening and fluffing can do a lot more than just improve your writing. You can tighten and fluff conversation. When someone gives you an unexpected compliment, most of us slosh around in a verbal mud puddle trying to respond but only succeeding in muddying the vocal waters. We self-deprecate. We make excuses. We splutter (sometimes false) praise in return. This is where you tighten! Simply say, “Thank you”. If the compliment given was genuine, the giver will know you accept it and feel good about saying it in the first place. If the words were not bona fide, then you haven’t overstepped in replying. If you know the words were not authentic, then accompany your thanks with a tight half-smile.
Fluffing in conversation must also be authentic. Use precise and distinctive words. Avoid the words “fine”, “okay”, and “thing”. Use some of those gems you found in the thesaurus when praising someone’s efforts. They may have to go look the word up to see what you meant, but will be delighted to learn that you thought their report was peerless or the meal they fixed was toothsome. Verbal fluffing can be enjoyable and edifying.
Spring-cleaning is just another variation of tightening and fluffing. Get rid of bits and pieces you don’t use, then get a new throw pillow or paint a wall to brighten the place. The same process applies to one’s wardrobe. Toss out those ugly brown pants you don’t wear and invest in a new jacket. Voilà! A successful tighten and fluff. Now, grab that thesaurus or maybe a broom.