February 27, 2019 ~ Unpack Your Overstuffed Writing

February 27, 2019 10:35 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

On The Road

The Other Half (his name is Robert) and I went on a 10-day road trip a few weeks back. We drove from Los Angeles to Moab, Utah where we visited three national parks. (Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef.) Because we drove, we took whatever we wanted with us. His Volvo S60, a four-door sedan, was plenty comfy and roomy. Between the two of us, we must have taken 12 coats or outerwear. All piled on the backseat we almost couldn’t see out the back window. We took equal amounts of other clothing overstuffed into suitcases and duffel bags. The reason for all this overstuffing? It’s February, and we were going to a part of the country that gets quite cold and snows in the winter. Weather we weren’t used to. We wanted to be prepared, and we were unaccustomed to dressing for temps in the 20s and 30s. So we overstuffed.

Lean & Clean. Not All Gummed Up

I’ve now used a version of the idea of overstuffing several times. While on the trip all the excess clothing made me think about overstuffed writing. I know, my mind works in superbly odd ways. Good writing, well-written prose should be lean and sparse. Prose that is overpacked, overfull, overstuffed even, contains an excess amount of words. It has too many adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions. It comes off sounding a bit too colorful and flowery. You want to say (write) as much as you can with (writing) as little as possible. Your words should allow the reader to fill in the blanks, or to use an overused idiom, to read between the lines. Not everything should or needs to be on the page. Your reader is intelligent, and their brain will fill in the missing, not-on-the-page information. My writing rule of thumb is lean and clean not all gummed up.

Hunting for the Excess

Writing this way takes effort, practice and time. But it’s a doable action. It requires drafting, and drafting again (rewriting over and over), and re-reading, and re-reading again. All the while looking for the excess that can be trimmed, or removed. Not every piece you write will be perfect. (This essay right here might be, and probably is, breaking some of my own rules!)
It’s the effort to try that’s important. In the trying, you’ll find success. Re-read what you’ve written and remove what doesn’t need to be on the page while still allowing your ideas to come across. Remove excess thats, ands, thens, buts, and sos. (While you’re re-reading if you remove these words does the sentence still make sense?) Remove the extra adjectives and adverbs; the superbly (adverb) high, purple (adjectives) Himalayas loomed in the far (adjective) distance. This becomes: the Himalayas loomed in the distance. Most people know the Himalayas are high and purplish, the word distance evokes farness so remove the word far, and so on…

Leave It on the Backseat

On our Utah winter trip, I pretty much wore the same coat every day. The pile of outerwear remained on the back seat. Yes, the other items were there if I needed or wanted them. A safety net, if you will. Sort of like the excess words in overstuffed writing. There to use but not really necessary for the success of the final piece. You should and can leave them inert on the back seat. My one coat was sufficient to keep me warm. Remember to write lean and clean as much as possible.

A closing piece of fun information: There are 61 national parks in the U.S. Robert and I are attempting to visit them all. After this most recent trip, we have visited a total of 20 from California to Florida and Hawaii.

I can help! If you found this article helpful and would like additional assistance with your writing, you might consider working with me. Hop over to the Writing Services page above for more information.

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This post was written by Charles G. Thompson

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