It’s Stephen King’s favorite piece of writing advice. Hemingway took it to heart. And now I am part of the Strunk and White, Rule 17 Club.
In the Elements of Style, Strunk and White write:
Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
The other day I was editing a report with my co-chair. I was doing my thing, crossing things out here, elaborating there, when he stopped and looked at me. “What?” I asked. “Is your favorite author Hemingway?” he asked. “Yes,” I said, not immediately understanding his point. “You’re cutting almost everything out!” “It’s superfluous!” I said, proud of my SAT-word skills and superior cut-but-not-paste editing style.
While I think that it’s always possible to take a piece of writing advice too far, I was gratified to learn that I have internalized certain writing habits. Wordiness is annoying, especially when it gets in the way of grammar. I now cringe when people start a sentence with “The fact that …” or “Being.” In fact, if gerunds were to disappear for a while, I don’t think I would miss them. Except when used for chapter titles. But that’s a blog post for another day.
Have a good weekend!