Thursday, March 11, 2010

Making Every Word Tell

Let's begin with an imaginary trip to the office supply store. I love these places, don't you? I love the copier-ink scent they all have and the rows and rows of pens, paper, and binders. I always feel safe inside when I leave Office Depot with my Brother's TN-350 ink cartridge under my arm. "There," I say to myself. "Now you can use your copier and print out that story! All's right with the world again."

Ah, office supply stores. You gotta love them. If only they served pizza and ice cream and allowed dancing, they'd be perfect!

As a child, my favorite part of preparing for the upcoming school year was buying the supplies I would need for class. (Okay, so I also liked getting cute shoes and Bonnie Bell lip gloss, too.) But pencils. No.2 Ticonderoga pencils to be exact. Think of the freshly-chopped wood smell they make when you first sharpen them. Brand spanking new pencils are awesome. They bring out your optimistic side and open your mind to possibilities. And how about clean college-ruled paper? Is there anything better for an excited writer than its cool, smooth whiteness sitting there on your desk in that Mead spiral notebook?

I will stop waxing rhapsodic about writing implements, but before I do, I'd like to ask the burning questions. Which writing tools do you like best? Do you enjoy office supply stores as much as I do? Phew. Now that I've got those tricky inquiries out of the way, we can move on to bigger things.

I took the title of this post from Strunk and White's Elements Of Style. I know what you're thinking. It is sacrilegious to mention William Strunk jr. when I have just used the word gotta in a previous paragraph. I hope Mr. Strunk will forgive me. I think he might. Even as an English professor at Cornell in 1919, he appeared to have a keen sense of humor. To quote from the introduction of E. Of S. . . .

"When he delivered his oration on brevity to the class, he leaned forward over his desk, grasped his coat lapels in his hands, and in a husky, conspiratorial voice, said, 'Rule Seventeen. Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!

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 sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.'"

I want to make each of my words tell. This might be hard to believe since I just spent a ridiculous amount of time praising school supplies and the stores that sell them, but it's true. Is it easy for you to be concise? Do you have a difficult time sticking to the bones of a story? Does it hurt when you edit and cut out unnecessary sections of your work? (Ouchy! Consider that last question rhetorical. We all know it hurts.)

Tell me what you think about making each word count.

Happy writing.
(P.S. The muse is off vacationing in the Outer Hebrides.)


  1. Hee hee...well, I'm quite wordy and my Beta hacks my work with a knife (kidding, she's great). She has tought me the fundamental lesson of saying more with less. I'm still trying to get the hang of it though.

  2. I thought I was the only one around who still remembers Bonne Belle lip gloss!

    I write til I bleed, then I have to chop, chop, chop until it makes sense. It doesn't hurt with words, only scenes and paragraphs.

    And what a place for Daniel to be! I'd love to go there.

  3. I like the fancy little notebooks with all the pretty illustrations on them! I have a collection at home. Oh, and clicky pencils. I never use the old school ones any more.

    And I do have a problem with being concise! I love description and I have to remember to build some good characters to go into my pretty scenes!

  4. I love office supply stores. My very favorite item might be the floral-print cloth-covered journals with lined pages and spiral binding. And I LOVE to discover and cut needless words.

  5. I have a problem with being concise. I need to learn how to say more with less words, it's tough!

    I LOVED getting new school supplies, it was the best! Every time I take my kids to get school supplies I'm always tempted to get something for me too. I really love gel pens, black ones.

    And it's just not fair to take that pretty away when I've gotten used to seeing him here, even if he is on vacation :)

    Oh, and. . . I'M AWESOME!!! *blushing furiously*

  6. You guys are the best comment-givers! It makes my day to read your thoughts.
    Anne, my favorite Bonne Bell was Dr. Pepper. What about you?
    I am going to be more observant at the supply store from now on. It appears to have as yet undiscovered treasures.
    Clicky pens, Aubrie?
    Floral covered journals, Marcia?
    I need to hop over to Office Depot and get me some.
    You are totally and completely awesome, Crystal. It's nice to hear you admit it!

  7. Each word definitely has to count, or out it goes. Sometimes those excess words seem to just be a route to the clarity, then they get cleared out in an edit.

  8. I do think about making each word count. It reminds me of this quote by Blaise Pascal, "Lettres provinciales", letter 16, 1657:

    "I have only made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter."

    School supplies - each September a new opportunity to be neat and organized. Hopes dashed by October.

    As for favorite stores, bookstores are still my favorite, followed by Sephora as a close second.

  9. Okay, I need to address the office supplies question first. I LOVE OFFICE SUPPLY STORES. The stationary department is my above all, absolute favorite (even above the entertainment section!) I love walking down the aisles and seeing all those pens and pencils, notebooks and folders, colorful Post-Its, stapler replacements.... Ahh. Happy days.

    Onto the more important question of conciseness. In my first drafts, conciseness and I merely acknowledge each other's existence and go about our days. But when it comes to revision, I tighten it up to the nth degree; conciseness and I become very, very intimate.

    Then we break up while I go on to another project. But we always end up back together - no matter how hard I try to resist.

  10. Dr Pepper and they used to make this incredible pink lipstick that looked totally hot with a tan!!! I had the same tube for years and now they don't make it anymore.

  11. I love your blogs, Roxy. And I'm sorry for my neglect, but I have to ask, who is this Craig guy? So, how does everyone have time to blog? I don't get it. But I love your stuff. Stuff I need to hear. I thought your sentence "Vigorous writing is concise" is the best. A sentence that proves itself. I hope to get better at it myself!

  12. I adore office supplies. I could live in the office supply store. And I am super picky about my pens. I can't believe what awful ones they try to sell in the grocery store. The best ones always come from the office supply store, where you can meander down the aisles and look for the micro-fine pen in iridescent green!

  13. I cracked up at this line:

    I want to make each of my words tell. This might be hard to believe since I just spent a ridiculous amount of time praising school supplies...


    So, I totally agree with you. But I do find it difficult to be concise. I do. Seriously. (see?) I rely heavily on revisions to take care of that. My CPs help loads, too.

  14. Awesome post! I'm with the many others that love office supply stores. Stationery just makes me happy. :)
    I had to cross out more words, sentences, and entire scenes in my first novel than I ever thought I could. My second novel is a little on the trim side as it is, so the challenge there is going to be adding words that count, not just adding fluff.

  15. I've spent the last few years make a conscious effort to pare down my words and make each one justify their presence in the story. It's an exercise in brutality in the beginning, and then it becomes easier. The flip side is that I now wonder if I cut too many words in a knee-jerk way to the point that I'm too spare and there's not enough words.

  16. OH I love the smells of office supply stores as well, and it's hard not to go silly buying this and that. :o)

  17. E.Elle-- Your relationship with concise writing is intense. I definitely feel the vibe between you two. (So clever and funny! No wonder you blog at The Writer's Funhouse.)
    Anne-- Pink lipstick and tans make me nostalgic.
    Portia-- Micro-fine iridescent green pens? I need one of those.
    Carol--I'm glad I cracked you up because your blog is always entertaining and delightful.
    Niki-- I get far too silly in those stores.
    Joanne, Shelley, Sarahjayne, Theresa-- I want to be as smart and talented as you guys, but I'll need to keep practicing.

  18. Staples is one of my favourite stores. I love everything about - except I'd like it all for free :)

  19. Oooooh, office supplies.... :) So lovely. So perfect. So unmarred. *sigh* Hey, I don't know about pizza and ice cream, but I'll dance with you in an office supply store. Why not?

    Seeing as I am still blithely first-drafting, I am being as wordy as possible to make it look like I am accomplishing a lot. Just kidding about the second part, but actually I am allowing myself in the first draft to write without too many rules or restraints... we shall see what revision brings. Evilness, perhaps even sunflowers. I will stand at the ready with my pen. After all, I am dangerous with it. And I will cross out unnecessary verbage. Even if I don't want to. Which I won't.

    (But I won't cross out my prologue.)

    And it's actually perfect that you love that picture of sunflowers that literally constricts my throat. Because if they see that I am friends with someone on their side, they may actually think twice before eating my face. I doubt it, but you never know.


  20. I LOVE office supply stores. It's been so long since I've been in one! Now my husband just brings me supplies from his own workplace.

    I always too wordy - especially in first drafts. I tend to write around the action. In the second draft, I always need to identify the action then cut straight to it!

  21. I love post-its. I always say that if I had invested in the post-it company I would be wealthy now just from my purchases.

    I'm not wordy. But I usually need to rearrange my words.

  22. I am such a nerd and LOVE office supply stores. And buying school supplies at the beginning of each school year... so much fun! LOL. At least I'm not the only weirdo! ; )

    I have a very hard time sticking to the bones of my story. I tend to wander off... rambling about... everything. Not good. But, I'm not afraid to cut scenes (even though you couldn't tell by the crying fit I haver after I cut each one!). : D