I went through high school thinking that I was a great writer. I always received decent grades in all of my english classes, as well as in the classes that required writing. I really enjoyed writing, too. I felt like my words flowed well together and my teachers continually expressed the like. But then I got to college and my First Year Writing Seminar changed that mindset. It was first semester of my freshman year and I expected to ace my seminar like I seemed to have “aced” my other writing classes. I remember getting my first paper back and being so confused as to why I received the grade I was given. I met with my professor the following day and he simply said, “You had excess words.” This was the first time anyone had ever told me that, and I soon made it my mission to fix it. He let me revise my paper and once I started removing the “fluff” in my paper, I realized it flowed better than before, and I got the better grade in the end. This experience reflects Zinsser’s message in a few of his chapters, all centered around simplicity. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have agreed; however, now is a completely different story. Simplicity, clutter, and more are a few topics Zinsser touches on to make your writing better, and I certainly have gained something from his messages, so let’s take a look.
The number one way to make your writing the best it can be is to make your writing simple and avoid clutter. In chapters 2 and 3, Zinsser thoroughly expresses how no one understands clutter, so it’s best if you just remove it. Clutter makes it more difficult for readers to understand your writing, and with good reason. My professor last year probably had trouble organizing my writing in his head because I just threw in excess words that did not serve a purpose in my writing. Clutter is the enemy of all writers because it has the ability to sabotage your writing, whether you like it or not. The secret to avoiding clutter and enhancing simplicity is stripping every sentence to its core; in other words, remove the fluff and words that serve no function. I know it is hard at first, but it makes your writing so much better in the long run.
Another way you can make your writing the best it can be is by using correct words in the correct way. In the words of Zinsser, “words are your biggest tools, so use them wisely.” This phrase could not ring more true to me because of my previous experiences with cutting out words. And trust me, I know how hard it can be cutting out random phrases, especially when you think they fit so nicely in your writing. Chances are, they don’t. So just learn to cut excess words out, because in the end, you know it will make your work even better. One phrase that you think appears intelligent may not even be considered a real formation of words in others’ eyes. So be aware of modern words and words that aren’t even words. Some ways you can learn to add better words to your writing is by being literary-cultured. By this, I mean you can read up on historical events through books, as well as the news now. Being cultured allows you to be aware of present words and how to use them in the proper context. So start reading up!
Zinsser’s chapters on being simple and using the correct words has a deeper meaning than we think. He brings up a good point not only related to writing, but to life as well. Complexity makes life harder to understand and keep up with; simplicity allows us to enjoy life more and if we worry too much about removing the clutter, we focus on the future and not the present as much as we should. I think this is a great message to think about and try to aspire to because applying these concepts to your own life is the first step to learning how to apply them to your writing. Also, know it is okay to remove things from your life; it’s only healthy. So, what are you waiting for? Start cutting some words out and choosing the best words to make your writing the best it can be!