Vigorous writing is concise

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.” William Strunk, Jr. (1869-1935)


Making a Writing Sandwich

Writing is not like asking someone to make you a sandwich. You don’t just have an idea and suddenly someone helps you get it between front and back cover with everything you want in it. It’s a slow cooking process. It ain’t just making a sandwich.

Make a list. When you go to the grocery store, what is the first thing you do before you go? You make a list on paper, right? So first, when you want to write, make a list of what you want to say, everything that’s “in your head” that wants to come out.

What resources are needed? Second, when you have a grocery list made you ask yourself, “What must I have to get everything on this list?” Time and money and a good grocery store. In the same way, you need to understand that writing that outline is going to take an investment of time, shutting off the TV, seeking some solitude or perhaps talking through some ideas with a friend, and you will also invest energy and effort, and depending on the subject matter pain and heartache because you are seeking to tell the truth about your life or the world or God.

Choose something healthy. Third, when you shop, you find what is nutritious at the store, things you like and your family will enjoy eating. You think about those you are buying for, cooking for, and whether or not they’ll eat it, and additionally whether or not it will be good and helpful to them. In the same way, when you consider what to write, you are choosing from what you know about the world or can learn that people might want to read, that can both be satisfying and helpful to readers.

Is the food nourishing? Fourth, when you bring home groceries, you either have pre-packaged stuff people open and eat quickly, or you slow cook meats, cut up veggies, make a dessert from the ingredients you’ve purchased. In the same way, what you write will either last like a fine nourishing meal in the guts of people who read you, or they will simply quickly open what you bring home, swallow it whole like a Twinkie in the mouth of a college student–oh, sorry, we don’t have those for now since Hostess is on hiatus. The choices you make in preparation are important to whether or not your readers will actually get much out of your writing. The more you put in, the more the reader will get out. Importantly, with certain kinds of literature, the harder it is to write, the easier it is to read.

Plating a nice meal. Fifth, the way you present the meal to your family and friends is important to whether or not they will eat it and enjoy it. Slop it on the plate, take little time preparing, simply tell people there’s frozen pizza in the freezer, and people are not going to be that interested. But present a fine plate with color and appeal to all the senses of sight, crunch that satisfies teeth and ears, tastes that blow up in your mouth from hot to cold, spicy to mild, sweet to salty, savory to smooth and rich. Readers want a variety of flavors and one flavor gets tiresome. But you have to get good at making one thing before moving on to another.

Clean up. Sixth and finally, clean up. No one likes a pile of dirty dishes the next morning. When you serve a meal, clean up the dishes afterwards. In my house, sometimes the cook gets a break while the rest of the family cleans up the dishes. When it comes to submitting something to an editor or friend, don’t send just a bunch of dirty plates with sloppy writing or ideas that are half baked. Think through what you want to write, research, take the time and invest the energy, write a draft, and clean it up and polish it well. Then submit it to a friend or editor.