Short is sweet; long is lousy

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Stephen King

“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.” Stephen King

When I edit a client’s writing, first I strike out between 25-50% of their words. All of us, even seasoned writers at times, use too many words.

Novice writers, and some bloggers I’ve noticed, think they need to write every detail and clutter their prose with a salvo of adjectives, adverbs and flowery clauses. Some writers tell me they use the verbose verbiage because it sounds better.
Wrongo dongo!
It may sound better to them, but verbosity bores readers. They think you’re trying to sound hoity toity.

Cardinal writing rule 23: Short is sweet; long is lousy.

For example:

    • Why write “accomplish” when you can write “do“?
    • Why write “accumulate” when you can write “grow” or “store“?
    • Why write “approximately” when you can write “about“?
    • Why write “category” when you can write “type“?
    • Why write “commence” when you can write “begin
    • Why write “difficult” when you can write “hard”?
    • Why write “discontinue” when you can write “stop“?
    • Why write “endeavor” when you can write “try“?1

Do you get the idea? Your readers don’t want to wade through a polysyllabic quagmire. They want to understand what you write. On the first read. You always communicate with readers better with short words, not long ones.

Here’s what Mark Twain said about long and short words.  He wrote in a day when writers were paid by the word.

An average English word is four letters and a half. By hard, honest labor I’ve dug all the large words out of my vocabulary and shaved it down till the average is three and a half… I never write metropolis for seven cents, because I can get the same money for city. I never write policeman, because I can get the same price for cop…. I never write valetudinarian at all, for not even hunger and wretchedness can humble me to the point where I will do a word like that for seven cents; I wouldn’t do it for fifteen.

1List is an excerpt from Write Tight by William Brohaugh.

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