A Writing Exercise in Briefs (Not Underwear)

brief writing exercises

Writing exercises in brevity.

Brett Legree explains why blogging for profit is like collecting underpants. He talks about love of craft but he never does ask (or answer) the question that’s on everyone’s mind: boxers or briefs?

Well, I’m here to tell you why some briefs belong on the page and not in your pants.

Boxers or Briefs?

If writing for the web has taught me anything, it’s brevity. I’ve always written short poems. In fact, my poems are so small, I could slide them up my legs and wear them like a bikini. But my other writing tends to be a bit wordy, more like boxers.

And like boxers, wordy writing is long, and that’s no good, especially for online writing.

Sometimes lengthy writing is necessary and it certainly has its place in many different types of writing, like literary novels. However, on the web, most people scan rather than read, so keeping text short and concise is beneficial because your readers will be able to quickly absorb your points without having to stare at the glaring screen for too long. You can also help your readers scan by including sub-headers and breaking up your text into short paragraphs.

But what if you have a tendency to write extremely lengthy prose?

A Writing Exercise in Brevity

Most writing exercises are designed to get creativity flowing. But this writing exercise challenges you to take a long piece of writing and make it short and sweet.

Luckily, it’s easy. With a few well-placed edits, we can turn boxers into briefs in no time.

Here’s an example of some original text I pulled from one of my many unfinished short stories. I have gone through and crossed out parts that can be eliminated without compromising the integrity of the piece:

Saidra turned her head and took a good hard look up the street. Where were the walkers and joggers that usually passed by throughout the day? She looked the other way. Where were the mommies, with strollers and toddlers in tow, walking their young schoolchildren to their classrooms? She stared straight ahead. Every day, the little old lady across the street came out with her coffee, picked up the newspaper and enjoyed both on her front porch, under a basket of pink and lavendar fuscia. After a quick trip inside, Old Rose, as she was known, always spent the first part of her day tending the garden. Today she was nowhere to be found. The entire street was deserted.

Once I trimmed away the excess, I dressed it up a little, just to make sure it still sounds good and makes sense:

Saidra looked up and down the street. Where were the walkers and joggers? Where were the mommies, walking youngsters to the nearby school? She stared straight ahead. Every day, the little old lady across the street picked up her newspaper and enjoyed it with a cup of tea on her front porch. Today she was nowhere to be found. The entire street was deserted.

How do you like that? I took this from 119 words down to just 64, and in less than ten minutes. It’s like a strip show for word lovers! Hey, who says writing exercises can’t be sexy?

Take it Off

Now it’s your turn to tackle this writing exercise. No, you don’t have to take your clothes off. Then again, the weekend’s almost here so maybe you should. You do, however, have to unclothe a piece of your writing.

Pick a poem, story, or blog post you’ve written. Go through and get rid of words and phrases that aren’t absolutely necessary. Then go through it again, reconnecting everything and rearranging the words that remain so they are compelling. See how short you’re willing to go.

Or, tackle my paragraph and make it even shorter, then show off your skills in the comments section. Come on, I dare you!

If you have any writing exercises to share, feel free to post them in the comments.

Are you looking for more writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.

101 creative writing exercises

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


47 Responses to “A Writing Exercise in Briefs (Not Underwear)”

  1. Brett Legree says:

    Hi Melissa,

    Thank you for shining your light on me today! The answer to the question, hmm… well, I’ve been talking about having a confessional blog where everyone can kiss and tell, so maybe I’ll save that answer for then 😉

    I like what you wrote today, and I try to write like that myself. Anything that goes out has been distilled down to what is really needed to convey my thoughts and feelings.

    I have my own personal theory on communication – it comes from the long winded documents I have to read at work, and also because I have four little children.

    I think that you should be able to explain anything to a 5-year old in about 5 minutes. I tried that with my engineering work, and you know what? My oldest was going around town telling everybody what I did at work – he really understood it.

    Yes, the weekend is almost here. While I am still clothed, I’m not wearing any socks – does that count?

    Thanks for the words and inspiration today.


  2. Wendi Kelly says:

    OK, it was a dare or I wouldn’t have even tried because I like it the way it was. but here goes…
    I knocked off 8 words-now at 70- and brought back the rose garden because I thought it painted such a nice picture of the scene. By changing from a passive voice to a more active voice just a few times, it chiseled it down just a few drops more.

    great exercise and article by the way, I love this stuff! You should see how long my stuff is the first time I write it. Ig yours are boxers, mine is long underwear! I am a rambling road.I usually go through things several times to chop it down to size.

    Here is my one cup of coffee attempt:

    Sandra’s head turned, eyes looking intently up the road.

    Where were the walkers and joggers?
    She looked the other way.

    Where were the mommies, toddlers in tow, walking youngsters to classrooms?

    She turned straight ahead.

    The little old lady across the street had a daily habit of enjoying her coffee and newspaper on the front porch by the rose garden. Today the porch was empty.

    The entire street was deserted.


  3. --Deb says:

    Cutting stuff out is usually essential for me, mostly because I can babble so very well. I mean, really, I’ve never understood why people find it hard to fill up a page. It can take me a little while to get going, but after? Not a problem! And I can always go back to edit stuff out. It’s trying to write without all those extra words in the first place that’s hard.


    I babble, but always go back to edit.

    (Oh, and you’ve got “Brief” misspelled in your title.)

  4. Harmony says:

    Okay, at the risk of making a point on how much our head occupies itself with words, :-) and purely with a humourous slant I offer the following edit to your last paragraph Melissa:

    Saidra turned her head and took a good hard look up and down the street. The entire street was deserted.


  5. Deb says:

    I tend to hang with the “put it all down first” crowd. Later, after it has had some time and space to steep well I start looking at what’s the point and what goes together.

    I will think about the poem edit. I don’t know if I have the karma right now. That’s a fall harvest-y kind of thing and right now my tulip tree is ready to pop and there’s not an apple in sight.

  6. Friar says:


    I wish my company would take some lessons from you. Some people here really need to simplify their writing.

    For example, we have a smoking policy, which can be summarized as “Only smoke outdoors, in designated smoking areas”

    But the procedure (I kid you not) takes NINE PAGES to explain this to you.

    I swear, it must be a conspiracy put on by the managers, to deliberately make things sound complicated, so that they can justify their existence.

  7. @Brett, I imagine that the underwear topic could carry on for days if not weeks in the blogosphere. Shifting into a confessional could be très risqué, and I say that with a French accent and a smile :)

    The many long-winded documents I’ve had to deal with back in my cubicle days did good for my writing in terms of developing a professional voice (clients appreciate that) but I’m not sure it’s done anything for my creative writing (my blog does not appreciate that). Let’s just say I’m working on letting my fun side show a bit more in my writing and your post was a great inspiration for that, so thank you.

  8. @Wendi, Ooh, you did good. I like how you broke it up into smaller paragraphs. Yes, that works quite well. I’m going to have to come up with more exercises like this.

    @Deb (Punctuality), EEK! Writer sin! I can’t believe I misspelled in my title. That’s what I get for blogging after midnight. Funny how a whole paragraph can be whittled down to eight simple words. :) Thank you, by the way, for tipping me off on my breach of spelling!

    @Harmony, Wow, so much for underwear. You pretty much stripped it down naked! Doesn’t leave much to the imagination but certainly kicks off the weekend with a bang!

  9. @Deb (gscottage), I swear, a poem is never done. In fact, I believe that is why I never have gotten serious about submitting my poetry to any journals, and why I haven’t completed a chapbook. I just keep editing, revising. To me, that is part of the fun.

    @Friar, A nine-page smoking policy certainly is over the top! Big corporations are so silly about that stuff. I wonder if they will ever get on a trend of simplifying everything. They will need to hire web writers to rewrite their manuals and policy handbooks 😉

  10. --Deb says:

    These things happen! It’s just particularly awkward when it’s in the title (grin). I think we’ve all done it, though.

  11. Wendi Kelly says:


    Don’t feel bad, I changed your main charactor’s name and didn’t realize it until after I hit post.
    Where is my edit button!

  12. Brett Legree says:


    I agree, we may have started something here, and that’s a good thing… the confessional thing is sort of already covered by Craigslist, so I wouldn’t want to steal their thunder (like I could do that!)

    I’m glad to have given you food for thought, and I really like what you did with it. I, too, am exploring my more creative side with this, which explains the crazy nature of my post :)


    She really did do a *great* job here, didn’t she? I love it.

  13. Karen Swim says:

    Melissa, you are so right. We can always say something with fewer words. With practice I can hack away at my own stuff fairly well, but now I find myself leaving long comments on other people’s blogs. Hey, all those words have got to go somewhere! I love your writing style, you are so talented. Yep, you are definitely the chick with a bic! LOL!

  14. Karen Swim says:

    Hi Melissa! This is great advice. Tight writing packs a powerful punch with fewer words. Over the past couple of years, with practice I can hack away at my stuff (and others) with ease. However, now I find myself leaving long comments on everyone’s blog. I suppose all those extra words had to go somewhere! I really enjoy your writing and the twist on Brett’s post was brilliant! You truly are THE chick with a bic! :-)

  15. Brett Legree says:

    @Karen & Melissa,

    I think we have an “underground undergarment blog ring” going on here…

    Tres cool.

    Perhaps my next post will be, “why I wear a kilt and go commando.”

    (Hey, I’m half-Irish! Sadly, I don’t own a kilt…)

  16. @Deb (Punctuality), I know but it’s so embarrassing!

    @Wendi, That’s creative license! I caught that the first time around. No need to edit though, I actually like that you did that :)

    @Karen, Double commenting, huh? 😉 Sshhhh, my undercover name is still a secret!

  17. Karen Swim says:

    @ Melissa, sshhhh, I’ve got a double secret agent identity too. Don’t all pen women with superpowers? :-)

    @Brett, yes she did an awesome job, she’s quite the wordsmith.

    A couple of weeks ago I wrote about bras and blogs, my bra would go really well with you and Brett’s underpants. Personally though I prefer boxers – no, no silly on men!

  18. @Karen, Now you have to tell me your secret agent identity (SAI)! Please! Email me girl.

    @Brett, I have to type that too: underground undergarment blog ring. Nice! I’m wrapping up some work then I’m going to go hunt down more posts about unmentionables!

    (Isn’t it the Scots not the Irish who wear kilts?)

    *looks around*

    Hey, it’s not a rager but I’ve got a little soirée going on here today. Interesting.

  19. --Deb says:

    Must be that underwear lying around….

  20. Karen Swim says:

    Underground underwear blog ring – ROFL, oh yea it’s a party! I think the Scots wear kilts, although the Irish may too after a beer or two, which may explain their leprechaun sitings.

  21. Brett Legree says:


    You have a nice little party going on here, very nice…

    I had to go check (you know how it is!) as my memory was rusty. From our friend Google, there is historical evidence that the Irish also wore kilts, not sure whether it was Scots or Irish first. It is likely that both got it from pleated Viking garments… hey, there had to be Vikings in here somewhere, right?


    I haven’t even gotten into the beer yet, just ice cream, and I swear I just saw a leprechaun run through the room muttering something like “they’re after me Lucky Charms”

  22. Alright, who left underwear lying around on my blog?

    I love Lucky Charms. Yum!

    @Brett, That’s good to know! I’m not sure why I thought it was strictly a Scottish thing. I have to say that there’s something mysterious about a man in a kilt and I think it does have to do with the commando question…

  23. Sssssssizzling hot one Miss Melissa!

    Here is a sample of a poem on which I did a major chop-job last year. Which do you like better, the first or last draft?

    King Hygur
    I hereby decree
    to be the sweetest of flavors
    ever prepared for me
    going through a dark tunnel
    your savor saveur sabor
    Senior Hygur
    did not change
    forever to me
    you’ll always be the sweetest of sweets
    no matter the train or the track
    on which I travel.
    It’s the taste in my mouth that
    laid golden images.
    Your happiness
    your passion
    your laughter
    your smile
    the bells ring still
    I hear
    o’er here
    where frogs are making sexy-time
    in the pool.

    A sweet is a sweet;
    let not the train,
    the track,
    or the darkness of a single tunnel
    change the taste on your tongue.


  24. PS. I will have to jump in the underwear ring soon. Watch out when I tie it back to screenwriting and Hollywood with a little sling action! I am sure that will be reeeeeeeal hard.

  25. Brett Legree says:


    I guess I gave away the answer to the question, didn’t I? 😉

    Oops, so did Wendi!

    (we were supposed to save that for my confessional blog!)

  26. Milena says:

    Hi Melissa. Have lurked on your blog for ages and I do believe this will be the first time I comment. This was a great Post. Wait – let me edit for brevity Great Post! 😉

  27. Wendi Kelly says:

    Alright, who left underwear lying around on my blog?


    It wasn’t me, I wasn’t wearing any……

  28. Manictastic says:

    Saidra took a good hard look up the street. Where were the walkers and joggers? She looked the other way. Where were the mommies, toddlers in tow, walking youngsters to the nearby school? She stared straight ahead. Every day, the little old lady across read the newspaper with a cup of tea on her front porch. But not today. The entire street was deserted.

    i took your dare and think i shrunk it even more and that in less than two minutes. I always had the tendency to write in brief, but somehow, I’m moving to the other way. Sometimes clutter can be beautiful and can add extra value, but sometimes it doesn’t and then it needs to get the boot and go.

  29. Brett Legree says:


    I’m not sure if I’d have the energy to respond to all of the comments… or I’d die laughing (Wendi actually *did* make me spit out my coffee earlier in the day)

    I’m glad I did it for sure, I thought, “what the heck?”

  30. @Jaden, I think I like the second one better but like I said, I prefer shorter poetry for the most part. Having said that, my favorite line of all is:
    where frogs are making sexy-time

    @Milena, If I knew lurkers came out at the mention of unmentionables, I would have started talking underwear a long time ago! Thanks for coming out from lurking :)

    @Wendi, Luckily I didn’t have a mouthful of water or coffee when I read your last comment! *guffaw*

  31. @Brett, It’s okay, I think you can still do the confessional. My god, if I knew underwear would get this kind of a response… well let’s just say: lesson learned! Thanks Brett 😉

    @Manictastic, Yes, I agree. There is a time and place for lengthier writing. Novels, magazine articles, and the occasional blog post warrants it as well. Nice job, by the way!

  32. @Brett, I’m glad you did too, it was good comedy :)

  33. Brett Legree says:


    I think it will come back from time to time, too. I’ve already committed to running a marathon barefoot in a kilt wearing a horned helmet… :) underpants, probably yes…

  34. @Brett, Well make sure you take lots photos and post them because I’d like to see THAT! Heheh!

  35. Brett Legree says:

    @Melissa – will do… I’ll just make sure I don’t stand on a subway grate, I’m a poor substitute for Marilyn Monroe 😉

  36. @Brett, OMG! You crack me up!

  37. Brett Legree says:


    I aim to please :) and lest you think I’ve no experience with a big poofy dress, I’ll have to see if I can find those old Halloween pictures from university… I do not like heels :)

  38. --Deb says:

    Okay, this is just getting really silly now. When did we pass out the virtual alcohol??

  39. @Brett, I’ll be looking forward to the photos!

    @Deb, Nothing wrong with a little virtual alcohol, or a party that lasts… um let’s see… five days and counting 😉

  40. --Deb says:

    At least there’s no hangover!

  41. Brett Legree says:

    @Melissa & Deb: (*raises virtual wine glass*) evening, ladies :)

  42. @Deb, the only hangover is a virtual one, perhaps a little soreness around the eyes from staring at the screen for so long. That is easily cured with a stiff drink! Or in my case, an icy cold beer 😉

    @Brett, cheers!

  43. Glenn Murray says:

    It’s not always a simple case of shorter is better. It all depends on your audience. Personally, I prefer shorter (although not always briefs!), but some people actually respond better to longer, in the right context. The long copy v short copy debate is over-rated. (I’ve just written about this at my blog, funnily enough!)

    Glenn Murrays last blog post..It’s not your length that matters, it’s how much they like it!

  44. Henry says:

    How’s this:

    ‘Saidra looked up and down the street. Where were the walkers and joggers? Where were the mommies walking youngsters to school? She stared straight ahead. Every day, the old lady from across the street read her newspaper while sipping a cup of tea on her front porch. Today she was nowhere to be seen. The street was deserted.’


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