September 19

Is your writing wordy and wandering?

“Perfect is not when there is no more to add,
but no more to take away.”
– Antione de Saint-Exupery, author of Le Petit Prince


You begin with a blank word document. Maybe you have some powerful, driving ideas, and you start to craft those main thoughts into words. You slowly build sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph.

Then, you keep going. Even when you begin to lose your way, you write on. Even though you are no longer sure exactly what is most important, you fill in sentences with another detail about the methods and one more point about your findings. Oh, and you should go back to add in that somewhat obscure but possibly important reference to a theory.

Sometimes we keep writing because we don't want to miss a crucial point, but when a piece is bloated with too many points, none of them is crucial.

If you identify with this type of writing – if you feel like you often write and write and write some more, until your brain has emptied itself into sentences run amok – you are not alone. In fact, I don't think it's bad place to be.

When you have too much, you can always reduce.

In fact, I recommend that you, intentionally, write too much.

Write down every meaningful morsel that you can manage. Insert every little point that pops into your head at 2 am. Let your writing take on the extra water.
I like to think of it as cooking a reduction sauce. Imagine that you begin with butter on high heat, caramelize a yellow onion, add in leaves of fresh basil, and pour over balsamic vinegar and rich chicken stock. It's watery, way too watery to be appetizing, but the flavors need the water in order to combine. When you turn up the heat and let the excess water evaporate – with a little patience – you'll have one of the most intensely beautiful tastes: a balsamic reduction.

In your writing, sometimes you need an overflow of sentences and paragraphs because sometimes one thought will combine with another thought to create something quite new. Those innovative thoughts (flavors, in my mind), would never have combined without some amount of excess.

When there is no more to add, you turn up the heat and reduce.

What sections are tangential?

What paragraphs could disappear without changing the meaning of the overall piece?

What sentences are redundant?

What words are unnecessary?

Go back, and reduce again.

You are finished when there is no more to take away. The innovative points created through your reduction will stand out beautifully and powerfully.

Now it's on you to turn. Revisit your in-progress writing. Add until there is no more to add, and then reduce until there is nothing more to take away.

(The delicious photo is from


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