I am a journalist and journalism instructor who acquired some of my best training from editors who weren’t afraid to cut. As a young reporter, I watched – often breathlessly – as sharp-eyed pros much senior than I extracted the unnecessary, the verbose, the clutter from my work. Peering over their shoulders as they reviewed my copy, I stood silently, tracking the cursor on the screen, dreading their pruning of my excess prose.
In time, I, thankfully, learned that less is truly more – and that the cutting can be good.
I learned that good writing is free of the barrage of surplus sentences and added adjectives that so many of us foolishly feel are inspired.
How can a situation be very unique? It’s either unique or it isn’t. A fatal killing? Future plans? Do any of us really plan the past? Isn’t this point in time simply now?
Why use 20 words to explain when 10 will work just fine?
Today, as a teacher, as I slice through my students’ work, I can still recall those days so long ago and the pain, the sharp stabs and initial insults I felt when words and phrases that I had agonized over were so readily plucked and tossed aside.
As I review my students’ submissions, a mantra I heard from more than one wise editor rises in my consciousness. And the commandment is appropriate for a gaggle of horror writers: Good writers must be willing to kill their babies.
Yes, that perfectly turned phrase, that expansive explanation, that bloat that we often think is so pure, so pristine, so perfect might actually hurt more than help our writing. In those early years you couldn’t tell me that. I saw the editor who sought to cut and tighten my copy as the executioner.
Fortunately, that’s not the case any longer.
Dee Anne Finken teaches journalism and runs a small newspaper.