Cut the fat: Cherubs learn The Writer’s Diet

Cherub faces a computer screen with the Writer's Diet highlighting weak words.

Alex Dangas runs her story through the Writer’s Diet test. This is a favorite tool for instructor Karen Springer. Photo by Jason Beeferman

Fitness is important, but lean, cut writing can draw more eyes than any physical specimen.

During their five weeks, cherubs endure an intense workout and diet regimen. This regimen, The Writer’s Diet, changes their initial couch potato writing style into lean, “sexy” slabs of text.

“It’s a fabulous tool,” instructor Karen Springen said. “It’s more for awareness. Like, ‘Oh my gosh, I put 10 prepositions. What was I thinking?’”

The Writer’s Diet Test is an online tool that writers can use to tighten their writing. When a writer puts text into the site, it rates the fitness of the writing on a scale of lean to heart-attack.

“It’s really useful,” said Grayson Welo of Weston, Massachusetts. “All you have to do is just copy and paste it, and it will highlight the different words you’re using. Seeing it in another format helps a lot.”

The Writer’s Diet, however, is more than an online writing guide. It’s a lifestyle, or at least a write-style.

“My writing is a lot more concise,” cherub Alex Dengas of New York said. “I’ve learned how to eliminate unnecessary adverbs and make everything flow easier.”

The value of brevity is taught early at the institute. Say what you want to say in as few words as possible.

“With less words, I say what I mean and I get to the point faster,” Zach Newman of Bayside, Wisconsin, said.

Too many adjectives or worse, too many adverbs, don’t always result in a grade as severe as “heart-attack.” After “lean,” the scale also includes “fit & trim,” “needs toning” and “flabby.”

“The Writer’s Diet said my trend story was flabby, which hurt my feelings at first,” Sophia DeLuca of Decatur, Georgia, said. “But it let me be aware of words I can eliminate, which helped me because my trend story was wordy.”

Obese writing is a health epidemic, and verbosity is the root cause. Verbosity puts writers at risk of a Diet “heart-attack” and can result in losing their readers.

“Every little word counts, especially in a magazine but also in the web,” Springen said. “If you have flabby writing with all these words you don’t need, you’ll lose the reader.”

A true writer can turn a fat belly of text and chop it down to a lean, slender slab of meat.

At the institute cherubs learn to write thin until it is second nature. They adhere to a few key rules to get their writing in shape.

Flabby words like “it,” “this,” “that” and “there” should be avoided to ensure the writing has that summer body physique all year round.

Verbs are essential to the quest to cut the fat.

Avoid waste verbs like “is,” “have,” and “was.” Let strong action verbs do the heavy lifting of the sentence.

Writing should dance and sway with the rhythm of life. Don’t use a dead, passive voice. Use active voice.

“I’ve learned how to make my sentences more direct,” Liv Jenks of San Francisco said. “Sometimes I don’t love it, and I want to be a little more creative with my structure, but it’s journalism. I’m here to serve the reader.”

Through intense workouts in the classrooms of Fisk Hall, and seas of red ink on assignments, cherubs learn to get in shape. They learn to say no to the Insomnia cookies at midnight, to keep physically fit, and say no to the use of needless prepositions to keep the writing trim.

Learning to write like a proper journalist is a challenge. But the sexy result is well worth the labor.