‘Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.’Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I have a very bad habit of writing the word ‘very’ before words I want to emphasise. It’s very annoying.
When I use ‘very’, it doesn’t usually add anything to my sentence. I only write it because it it feels like it does.
In fact, the sentence, I have a bad habit. Is more powerful because it is more succinct.
If the habit in question is so bad that I can’t use ‘bad’, I should select a new word. I should have said;
I have an awful habit. I put the word ‘very’ before words I want to emphasise. It’s frustrating.
I subconsciously throw ‘very’ into sentences which I know aren’t yet complete, but don’t know how to deal with in the moment.
My subconscious surely hopes that ‘very’ charges the sentence with a sense of importance. Unfortunately, all it does it water the sentence down.
Since noticing this habit, ‘very’ has become a red flag. Whenever I see it, I know that I probably need to reword or restructure the sentence I’ve jammed it in.
This blog has made me better at this already, but I’m sure I have more bad habits which I’ll discover along the way.
This approach to simplifying your writing is effective across all mediums.
Next time you’re writing a tweet, a message to your Mum, or an email to your boss, focus not on adding words to articulate meaning or emphasis, but on carefully selecting as few words as possible to clearly communicate what you’re saying.
My favourite example of how effective succinct writing can be is this tragic six word story;
While it’s a cause of debate, the story was allegedly written by Ernest Hemingway, who was famous for his use of short sentences and direct prose.
Either way, there’s no arguing that those six words tell a more evocative story than anything else I’ve written in this post.
It paints a picture which makes you feel something, then leaves you with questions to ponder.
It’s beautiful. It’s powerful. It’s concise.
It wouldn’t operate if you removed a single word, and I challenge you to think of any word to add which could improve it while still telling the same story.
My bet is that you can’t. All the fat has been trimmed. It’s as close to perfect as it can get.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery (albeit the lowest form of creativity), so I’ll leave you with a six word tale of my own;
New blog: Amateur writer. Trying hard.