“Omit needless words. Omit needless words. Omit needless words”
This phrase trailed me long after reading it in Strunk and White’s famous guide to English usage. Lately I have been reading On Writing Well–essentially Strunk and White plus. Its author, famed journalism professor William Zissner, focuses on the craft of writing rather than usage alone. Mostly I am aiming to tighten my academic writing, but naturally I hope for some benefits to rub off on my blog as well.
It seems I am less lonely in my struggle than I thought. Good writing, Zissner writes, doesn’t come naturally (though most people, including me, think it does).
Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.
And I thought I was simply obsessively meticulous and fussy.
I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite economists, John Kenneth Galbraith:
There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. However, when I’m greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed before, as I’ve often said, I put in that note of spontaneity which even my meanest critics concede.
Unfortunately, my blog posts only have time for three revisions, so you dear reader will have to be satisfied with mere impulsiveness.
Postscript: The original guide to usage by Strunk–but sadly not the version updated and popularized by E.B. White–is freely available here.