Writing

Clutter

Fighting clutter is like fighting weeds – the writer is always slightly behind. … Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there. … Clutter is the laborious phrase that has pushed out the short word that means the same thing. Even before … people and businesses had stopped saying “now.” They were saying “currently” (“all our operators are currently assisting other customers”) … Yet the idea can always be expressed by “now” to mean the immediate moment … or simply by the verb “to be” (“It is raining”). There’s no need to say, “At the present time we are experiencing precipitation.”  

“Experiencing” is one of the worst clutterers. Even your dentist will ask if you are experiencing any pain. If he had his own kid in the chair he would say, “Does it hurt?” He would, in short, be himself. By using a more pompous phrase in his professional role he not only sounds more important; he blunts the painful edge of truth. It’s the language of the flight attendant demonstrating the oxygen mask that will drop down if the plane should run out of air. “In the unlikely possibility that the aircraft should experience such an eventuality,” she begins – a phrase so oxygen-depriving in itself that we are prepared for any disaster. 

– William Zinsser, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

I apologize for such a long letter. If I had more time it would be shorter.

– Blaise Pascal