Tool #10 Cut Big, then Small

Updated: Jan 13

In Roy Peter Clark's book, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, Clark gives us some insight on how to edit your work. The piece of advice he gives us is "Cut Big, then Small," with the motto: "Prune the big limbs, then shake out the dead leaves." He then provides a sample of the first draft of Tool #10 with a bunch of content cut out or added in for clarity, readability, and flowity (that last word I made up. It means the ability of the reader to gauge the flow of a piece of writing. Start using the word flowity, and it could become a real word in the dictionary.)

The Problem with Editing for Writers

Here is the problem with writers that Clark points out: we tend to fall in love with our words. It's alright to be proud of our work, but we musn't go overboard with the details to the point that meaning becomes lost. Especially if we have to write a 500+ word blog post. We may be tempted to leave words in our writing as fillers. But remember this role of thumb, which I am sure you've heard before: quality over quantity. So let's say you have to write a 500-word post. Make your outline first (don't ever forget to prewrite!) Get your thoughts focused, and then start to cut out the fluff.

Here is some great advice from Clark: "you can shake out the dead leaves later," but first, check these items off the list:

Advice on editing content writing.

Always Give Yourself Time to Revise & Edit

Another piece of advice Clark gives us is always to leave time to revise and edit. If you pressed for time, at least do an edit and a half. Since we don't want our readers to get lost in the shuffle of words, we need to keep a clear focus on the meaning of our writing. If a reader becomes lost, the paper had too many dead limbs. We must keep our readers on the "proper path." While "proper path" is redundant, as Clark points out, he saves it for the sake of alliteration.

Here is another list by Clark. It is the "dead leaves" stuff that you can trim.

Advice on editing content writing.

The best part is Tools #10, where he shows us how he cut the dead leaves out of this list of "dead leaves."

Next Time You Write

Next time you write, be sure to use a software that allows you to see the editing process. I used to do this with Google Docs with my students. I wanted them to see what I took out or added into their writing to make it better. We should still do this as adults, especially if we are writers or are trying to be writers.

Regardless, Right-Handed Writing offers Editing and Researching Services! More details on the website about this soon! In the mean time, please be sure to contact me for a FREE Consultation! And always feel free to share your thoughts below. Show us some examples on how you trimmed the big stuff and cut out the dead leaves!

Happy editing!


Clark, R. P. (2008). Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. Columbus, GA: Little, Brown.

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