When the Guardian asked a number of authors for their top ten rules for writing fiction, the responses were intriguingly varied. Many of them mentioned the importance of reading widely (although a few disagreed). Many focused on the discipline needed to stick at the task, perhaps by writing an allotted number of words a day (The number varied.) Some said, keep a thesaurus handy (others expressly forbade it). But the one point that many agreed on was that anything superfluous should be removed.
Hilary Mantel: “First paragraphs can often be struck out.”
Sarah Waters: “Cut like crazy. Less is more.”
Diana Athill: “Cut… only by having no inessential words can every essential word be made to count.”
Even though these authors were talking about writing fiction, almost any type of writing benefits from concision. Many forms of expression in today’s connected world are limited in length, whether by design (such as Twitter’s 140 characters) or custom (blog posts tend not to exceed a few hundred words). Whatever we’re writing, the key is to get the message across in the fewest, most compelling words possible, in order to hold our readers’ attention through to the end.
As Elmore Leonard so deftly put it: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”