Omit Needless Words

Damn that Stephen King. He’s the one who said in his book, On Writing, I should read The Elements of Style, the esteemed grammar manual, as though it were a bible. 

Here I’m basking in my assumed brevity only to realize I’m wordy as hell. Charles Dickens, move over.

It was the best of times, it was the worse of times, mother fucker.

I went back to some of my earlier essays and couldn’t believe how poorly written they were. The editing was embarrassing, if you can even call it that.

I remember Hemingway saying, if you love a word too much get rid of it. I should have listened to Papa since I seem to be in love with the whole English language.

On page 39 in William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White’s book we have...Omit needless words...giving examples that despite my bellyaching, really helped me see what one doesn’t need:

the question as to whether….or just plain…whether

there is no doubt but that…no doubt, or doubtless.

used for fuel purposes…used for fuel

he is a man who…he

in a hasty manner…hastily

there is a subject that…this subject

Her story is a strange one….Her story is strange.

the reason why is that…because

Vigorous writing is concise, says Bill and E.B. (you do feel as if you know them after they shred your prose like coleslaw).

Here I tout myself a minimalist thinking I’ve lassoed the economy of words when all I’ve done is hoard them. No wonder Stephen King recommends reading this. If you discount the shame and torment, so far it’s been a great help.

King also urges to eliminate all that is unnecessary, even giving an elaborate example at the end of his book to show how brutally he edits. What I found interesting was how obvious it becomes once you see the before and after.

I’m grateful to Strunk, White and King, and see it will take a while to curb my bad habits up to a week ago, I had no idea I had.

It’s right up there with trying not to bite your nails…but

progress not perfection, as they say in 12 Step.

Loving your art while committing to it makes you want to make it better.

I’m in.

Recommended reading:

On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King

The Elements of Style, William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

Warriner’s English Grammer and Composition

all on AbeBooks.com

SB

About Susannah Bianchi

I'm just a girl who likes to write slightly on slant. I've had a career in fashion, dabbled in film and to be honest, I don't like talking about myself. Now my posts are another matter so I will let them speak for themselves. My eBooks, A New York Diary, Model Behavior: Friends For Life and Notes From A Working Cat can be found on Amazon.com. Thanks.
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15 Responses to Omit Needless Words

  1. Very interesting indeed. I’ve also taken a trip back to my earlier writings, it was interesting to say the least.

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  2. anon says:

    Don’t be so hard on yourself. Your writing is entertaining. That is a quality that is very difficult to acquire. Any fool can learn to edit. Very few will ever enchant as you can.
    While we’re on the subject, I enjoy Fowler’s Dictionary of English Usage.

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  3. skinnyuz2b says:

    I was the lead technical writer for a high-tech magazine for financial institutions (nine years) until it was discontinued. I was paid by the word, and you better believe a writer got canned if they threw in unnecessary verbiage. It’s such a pleasure now, to stick in any descriptive words I want. But you’re right, Susannah, about the need to edit mercilessly. I’ve painfully deleted multi-paragraph sequences that I loved, but wouldn’t be as interesting to a reader.

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    • This explains why you write so well. I suppose if I was all caught up in perfection the blog might not have its long lifespan. The last thing on my mind was editing. My love of writing took the lead but I would like to clean up my errors. It must be time since King’s book came out in 2000 and it’s only now I’m reading it. And The Elements of Style is ancient. How does the adage go, ‘when the student’s ready,’ the teacher appears? Thanks, as always for your candor.

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  4. Michael says:

    I am my own worst editor. I hate self editing. It is often a Sophie’s Choice situation when trying to determine which phrase or collection of words will convey the right image or thought. It’s so terrible to have to leave a fun turn of phrase behind for the sake of cohesive story-telling. Don’t take the advice of King and Strunk & White as gospel though. They provide great examples but their styles don’t work for everybody, especially if you have a clear voice, which I think you do.

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    • I am not a slick writer by any means. It always feels as if I’m talking to someone across the kitchen table. Their rules are very foreign to me, though I do see where one can tidy up a sentence. Been doing that since it’s been brought to my attention. I never want to come across as dim…a fear of mine…so this is why I’ve become a little obsessed. I’ve always written by ear…feels like driving an automatic suddenly switching to a stick.

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  5. D. D. Syrdal says:

    As Thoreau said, “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” Clear, concise writing takes time. But you have a unique voice, don’t edit that out. Wasn’t it you who sent me that anecdote about the secretary who edited Steinbeck’s manuscript so heavily that the editor complained he’d removed Steinbeck from the book? Maybe it wasn’t Steinbeck, I can’t recall exactly.

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  6. Patricia says:

    I don’t think of myself as a writer. At Patricia’s Place I just write what I think and how I think it. I do edit because I tend to ramble. At Day of Grace I am a bit more careful because of the subject and I do not want to mislead or offend but still be transparent in who I am and what I believe. Also, I keep it short so folks will read and hopefully think about what what I wrote.

    I like the way you write and keep coming back because you are interesting and humorous. Keep on!

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