Being concise

I like this excerpt from the introduction of The Elements of Style:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subject in outline, but that every word tell.

There’s beauty in simplicity. Whether it is an Apple product or a paragraph, something that is simple and well made carries with it an elegance people appreciate–even if they can’t fully explain what makes it elegant.

The trouble is, the longer the work, the harder it is to be concise. Making every word “tell” in a short story is much easier than doing the same in a novel. Similarly, a blog post can follow the above advice with less effort than a lengthy research paper.

I received an email from a published Christian writer. He said he wrote over 120,000 words, and when the book was released, the word count was about half that. From the writer’s point-of-view, the cuts made his book much, much better.

(Too bad we don’t have an editor following us around all day. We could screen everything we say before making fools of ourselves. Unkind words would be deleted. Gossip would dwindle. The only things that would be said would be statements of meaning. There would be beauty in brevity.)

Just because I really like the above excerpt does not mean I adhere to it all the time. If I don’t follow its precepts, it’s not because I don’t want to, it’s because being perfectly concise is difficult. It takes years to learn how to make “every word tell”. And the only way to get better is to practice–sometimes publicly. 

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