Thursday, July 21, 2016

Save words. Save energy. Save time. Save space. Reduce stupidity.

Since the end of the last century, many words have been written and said about minimizing the use of vehicles, fuel, heat, power, water, food, packaging, building materials and more. We are supposed to SAVE vital resources.

I think it's time to say a few words about using fewer words.


The archaic phrase "Inquire Within" has been pissing me off since I was a teenager. The sign shown above does not display a phone number or a web address. If the sign did not say "Inquire Within," and you wanted to get hired, exactly what the hell would you do but open the door, walk in and inquire?



I bought gas from a pump that said, "Product Contains Up to 15% Ethanol." If the first two words were deleted from the sign, would the message be less clear?

The same principle applies to writing. Almost any page can easily shed a word or ten -- and be improved by the pruning.

I tend to be pedantic (a trait I inherited from my father). I naturally give lots of examples to prove a point. I recently self-imposed a rule to limit examples to THREE -- and my arguments are no less forceful.

Print-on-demand and ebooks are certainly efficient. But if every writer would eliminate two, three or ten pages out of every 100 pages, book printers would use less paper, ink, toner, glue, energy and time; and the trucks that move the books would save fuel, and the UPS driver might last longer.

AND... the books would probably be better if they were briefer.

In an electronic medium like a blog or ebook, writers have unlimited space to spew all of the words they want to -- and the lack of limits encourages sloppiness.

Advertising is very different.

If a copywriter writes too many words to fit in a one-page ad, he shouldn't use tiny type and can't assume that the client will pay $30,000 extra to run a two-page ad. If she writes too many words to fit into a 30-second commercial, she can't decree that the actors must speak faster, or that the client must pay for more air time.

Impose some limits on yourself. It won't hurt, and will probably help. People are busy and don't have endless time to read. When you think you've finished a book, try to chop out 10%. Briefer is often better.


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Help Wanted photo from http://www.newstimes.com/. I forgot where the gas pump photo came from.

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