As promised in my last post, today I’d like to write about writing.
Since landing my first writing job a few months ago, I’ve been learning an awful lot about writing lately. So much learning, in fact, that it honestly feels like I’m a new writer every single day. As each day passes, I look at things I wrote yesterday – and already think, “Oh god, this is awful. This is so bad, why didn’t somebody slap me?” This is a blessing, because I’m ecstatic to be growing so much so fast – but a curse, because with each new development I become more and more critical of my previous work. This journey has been one of continual self-discovery and evolution.
One thing in particular that I’ve become hyper-sensitive to in my own reading/writing is “fluff” …or writing more without necessarily writing better.
…Fluff, in other words, is other words.
One of my favorite copywriting articles to date has been ‘How Twitter Makes You a Better Writer‘ by Copyblogger. The gist? 140 characters forces you to (1) prioritize what you want to communicate, (2) maximize on the vocabulary words you include, and (3) become a dynamite editor.
Because on Twitter (as in writing in general), you just simply can’t afford any unnecessary verbiage.
Mark Twain knew this, when he expressed his opinion on the word “very”:
Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
‘Very,’ like many other superfluous words, contribute to fluff in your writing.
For those of you unfamiliar with why my blog is called The Nutshell Version, I’m definitely guilty of fluff. I’m usually of the age-old storytelling philosophy: ‘When in doubt, write more.’ (This is a bad philosophy, guys. Don’t do this.)
But as I grow in my writing (and, hopefully, begin to tone down the fluffiness), I read over old blog posts and am tempted to delete whole paragraphs. (“What was I thinking? This doesn’t contribute to the story at all.”) Being paid to write (and, specifically, having to work within ironclad word counts) has given me a new perspective on the importance of written real-estate.
It has made me similarly critical of fluff in other’s writing. Which is why, when I read a lot of marketing content, I’m tempted to shake the writer by the shoulders and say “JUST SPIT IT OUT!” Because it almost seems like they’re deliberately tiptoeing around what they want to say.
For instance, I came across this on a company’s ‘About’ page recently:
XX provides clear answers for real people. We will conduct a comprehensive analysis, communicate our findings, and develop customized solutions based on your unique needs. Upon completion, we’ll evaluate our work, reconcile our progress, and provide our expert recommendations. Because at XX, we believe in solving the tough problems in a way that makes sense for our clients.
…Yeah okay. But what do you actually do?
This is an example specific to my industry (marketing), but I think the same can be said for any writing. As writers, we get so caught up in wanting to sound conceptual and sophisticated that we almost forget that we have a message to communicate and a reader to satisfy.
“keep your reader in mind as you write, and to hold yourself accountable to delighting them.” - Elizabeth Gilbert bit.ly/1suAwro—
Susie Wittbrodt (@nutshellversion) July 09, 2014
In conclusion, whether you’re writing for a company ‘About’ page or a comprehensive history of the world… be deliberate when fashioning your prose, and consider forgoing eloquence for concision.
Or, to give you the Nutshell Version:
Cut the fluff.