I love simplicity. In my home. In my closet. In my brain. No surprise, then, that I am a big fan of the Six Word Memoir project by Smith Magazine, an online magazine devoted to storytelling. When I read or listen, I want to know the point. I also write for young children, so I’m well-trained in editing the superfluous. Less than 500 words spread over thirty-two pages is the norm.
Ernest Hemingway is with me. “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way,” he said. In fact, when challenged to write a complete story in six words, he wrote: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Yet, writing succinctly—the art of using as few words as necessary —is a challenging feat for most writers. We can confuse the use of multiple adjectives and adverbs as a sign of better writing.
Benefits of Succint-nicity
Can I make up a word like Succint-nicity in a writing blog? I say yes!
The benefits to adding some streamlined “Shazam” to you writing are, well, clear:
- You get your point across quickly and are more easily understood.
- You avoid writing fatigue and re-discover the joy of writing.
- You push your own creative boundaries as you search for how to be more poetic—more lean, artful, impactful—with less.
Three Techniques for Shortening and Energizing your Writing
Ready to practice the art of writing succinctly? Here are three techniques you can use:
1. Write in incomplete sentences.
Yep, I said it. When I edit 4th graders essay on “how to blow a bubble,” we talk about a subject and verb in every sentence. But we writers have artistic license. Say you’re describing the upheaval at a company. You could say: The company is experiencing a lot of tension right now as many employees are arguing about the best path to take. Or you could write: The company is on a crazy-fast growth path. Tempers are short. Opinions fast. Decisions faster. Inner turmoil and turnover.
2. Use fewer, stronger adjectives.
For example, “The ugly, big, green, scary emotion of jealously consumed Peter when he found out Phil was dating Bridgett” can be “A monstrous jealousy consumed Peter when he spotted Phil and Bridgett at the diner.”
3. Write like you are talking to a friend.
Before you put pen to paper, it’s often helpful to say aloud what you’re trying to communicate. You’ll hear a more informal, friendly tone that you can incorporate into your writing. “I want to meet him more than I want to eat a pan of brownies” might be something you’d quip to a friend. Fun to read in writing, too!
How about you? How do you write more with less?
Do you ever use wayyy more words than necessary? For today’s practice, free write out a thought, directive, or description. If you’re in the midst of writing a book, re-look at one of your sentences or paragraphs. Then, try your hand at succinctly re-writing it. Trimming the unncessary. Trading ten words for six. Adding oomph where there was on and on and on.
Free write for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to leave comments on a few practices by other writers.