Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Different Kind of Clutter

On Writing Well, book cover

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, is an old favorite - a great inspiration for anyone who does indeed want to write well. When I went to consult it today, these words jumped out at me:
Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless words. ...

Simplify, simplify. Thoreau said it, as we are so often reminded, and no American writer more consistently practiced what he preached. Open Walden to any page and you will find a man saying in a plain and orderly way what is on his mind. ...

How can the rest of us achieve such enviable freedom from clutter? The answer is to clear our heads of clutter. Clear thinking becomes clear writing; one can't exist without the other. ...

Is there any way to recognize clutter at a glance? Here's a device that my students at Yale found helpful. I would put brackets around any component in a piece of writing that wasn't doing useful work. ... Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent - they're swollen with words and phrases that do no new work.

4 comments:

Cynthia Friedlob said...

A handy reminder as I'm about to start teaching another writing class this week!

I wonder if most of us could "put brackets around" 50 percent of the stuff and clutter in our homes because it isn't doing any useful work. My guess: yep.

Jeri Dansky said...

Cynthia, I never thought about extending that idea to our physical stuff - thanks!

lissanne said...

Ah... Cynthia's inspired me... many people could use brackets around their speech too! You know what it's like... when some folk can't give you a succinct answer! Bring on the brackets!!

Jeri Dansky said...

Lissanne - like almost every politician?