Saturday, September 22, 2012

Prune Your Message

I think one of the reasons I so enjoy proofreading and editing is that I find endless reserves of joy in the process of fixing things that are broken, or bringing new life to what is seemingly unusable.

This is a recurring theme for me; there is nothing I love more than leaving the thrift store or a flea market with an armful of objects that just need a little TLC to become as good as or better than new. By the same token, reordering a wandering paragraph so its message can sing gives me immeasurable satisfaction. It didn't work, and now it does. It was broken, and now it is repaired.

It's the concept of beauty in simplicity: economy of words, economy of materials. The same principles apply; instead of shopping endlessly and watching your home fill with redundant clutter, allow necessity and the desire to use what you have to inspire creative ways to solve a problem. And in writing, rather than inundating your reader with excess language or endless repetitions of the same idea, using as few words as possible with precision lets your idea rise to the top without all the baggage. This is why good editors are so important: as an objective reader, I might see a faster route to your main idea than you can.

Like removing brambles from a path, pruning unnecessary words teaches you to do more with less, but it's not always easy. Writers know, getting too attached to a word or phrase can stand between you and clarity. Instead, focus on the words as means to an end, and commit yourself to your idea rather than the way you've written it.

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