September 19, 2014

Writers – Do You Have Economy of Statement?

Bradley Cooper in Limitless

Never sacrifice meaning for brevity.

As a writer, you (hopefully) want your audience to understand you. A good writer will lead his reader to his meaning by the most sure and direct route possible. And, if the reader chooses to take the time to read an article, she certainly hopes to derive some sort of valuable meaning from the writer’s words.

Readers and Patience – Rare Bedfellows

Readers become impatient when they have to wade through needlessly wordy or complex sentences. Economy of statement is the mark of a great writer; yet great writers never sacrifice meaning on the altar of brevity. Authentic economy of statement dictates that the writer convey his intended meaning; if the intended meaning requires many words, he’ll use many words.

To do this, you’ve got to weigh your idea before you begin writing. This will help you give the idea, not only the right words, but also the right number of words necessary to get the point across.

Ernest Hemingway had economy of statement down pat. He used words and language that precisely mirrored his meaning and his sentences reflected his skill in this technique.

Three Ways to Achieve Economy of Statement

Achieving economy of statement involves more than simply practicing grammatical devices. It’s true simplicity through understatement. Understatement represents a genuine simplicity that shines through the bare writing. It’s more a result of a writer’s attitude toward his ideas rather than some word-cutting technique.

Check out these three, self-explanatory ways to achieve simplicity in your writing:

  • Reject all unnecessary words
  • Use simplified, unadorned sentences
  • Only add words as they contribute to your meaning
Ernest Hemingway Economy of Statement

Hemingway – king of brevity and economy of statement

Hemingway brought readers to the image he hoped to create in their minds by using the utmost simplicity in words. Think of the architect who strives for immense beauty by working with the simplest lines and devices possible for the structure he designs. This is art. Writing is art – or can be. It takes time to approach the skill Hemingway had with economy of statement – Lord knows I’ve certainly got a long way to go.

When asked about the difficulty of writing, Hemingway once quipped, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Bleed with us: What about you? Do you actively use the three techniques above when you sit down to write? Do you sit at your computer and bleed?

 

Images: Bradley Cooper in Limitless, courtesy of Salon [dot] com, Hemingway, courtesy of quotationsbook [dot] com

About Samantha Gluck

Not only am I the chief editor of this multi-author online magazine, I'm a content creator and social media marketing strategist with a background in journalism, finance, & healthcare. I began my content marketing agency, All Media Freelance, LLC, in 2010 and lead a well-rounded, talented team of multi-channel content strategists and niche writers. I've developed and managed print and digital content projects for health care, fitness, financial services, mental health, non-profit, and automotive publishers, as well as for biotechnology brands.

Comments

  1. My philosophy is “When in doubt, leave words out.” Ironically, it’s also my philosophy when I travel, “When in doubt, leave it out.” :)

    I’ve learned to self edit and not to use ‘flowery’ words when simple ones will do. This is extremely important when you write for the internet. Most readers want to ‘get in and get out’ and implement whatever advice a writer may have for them straight away. I’m sure there are readers (me) who appreciate long winded writing (when it’s good), but for the most part, I believe readers appreciate simplicity.
    Amandah recently posted..How to Use Twitter Better: 7 Quick and Simple TipsMy Profile

    • I love what you said here, Amandah. Yes, readers like to “get in and get out” — so to speak. But, there are those (like us) who do truly appreciate a bit of verbosity in writing when it adds to the story, the meaning, the flavor… Anyone who knows me as a writer (even a little bit), knows that I am a stickler for active voice. I find that active voice represents one of the best techniques for employing a nice level of brevity while still allowing for some tulips along the way. :-)

      And I’m well aware of your ‘when in doubt, leave it out’ travel philosophy as well. When you first mentioned it (in a comment on another article here), I wasn’t sure I agreed until you offered up the fact that I would then have an excuse and room to pack new items I purchased on the excursion. I’m a convert.

    • I agree on your philosophy Amandah “When in doubt, leave words out”. I am not a professional writer but I do understand that not only “less is more” but ” less is better”.

      Consider also this: Not all readers out there are native English speakers so you have to talk simple if you want to reach out to them.

      I haven’t read Hemingway yet but he’s on the top of my book list.

      • Magda,

        Great point about non-native speakers. What’s more, non-natives may not understand idioms or colloquialisms commonly used in everyday speech. That’s why it’s important to use straight forward, simple language (for the most part). Of course, it’s always nice to learn a new figure of speech — at least every once in a while.

        I remember learning some Spanish metaphors and idioms when I was immersed in the language and they were like little treasures that I had found.

        And what do you mean you’re not a pro writer? Gimme a break <–(idiom)!

    • hi amandah,
      your words…i like it. a real life aid. as you do when you travel (in doubt, leave it…) i probably should do so in the case of my actual damaged relationship. hmhmhm. i have to think about this very seriously. thanks for the idea ;-)
      what do you think about this?
      peter

  2. You truly are a wordsmith, Samantha.

    I think there’s a balance between cutting and chopping, and thus creating a razor sharp story – and adding verbosity to give richness to the story. The litmus test I think, lies in the genre of the story, and the style of the writer.

    There’s a reporter for the local rag here that almost doubles up on every sentence. He covers the local PD and the courts. And I think some well meaning editor told him, “Kid, never assume anything.” So he doesn’t let the reader make any assumptions, or conclusions on his own. It pains me greatly to read any of his articles, so I don’t anymore!

    But, if Papa (or my favorite author) wanted to throw in a few paragraphs to add more color and texture to the work, I would still be salivating over it like a Pavlovian Dog. Because it works.

    • Hi Gibster and thanks (as usual) for your sweet, uplifting words.

      You’re spot on when you speak of the balance required to create a razor-sharp story that still conveys the right amount of rich imagery and explanation within the bare naked text. And i like that you talk of the genre representing the true litmus test that dictates how much richness a story needs to get its intended message across to the reader.

      Regarding the reporter for your local rag: I have to say, “Wow,” firs of all, because my editor for the Houston Chronicle Small Business section always made me cut out EVERY word he thought superfluous and truly made me the stickler for active voice that I am today. That sort of thing wouldn’t fly at the Chronicle.

      I used to hate my stories when I first filed them at the Chron because I thought he made me cut too much out. In retrospect, they’re much better than they would have been had I left all that fluff in them.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Gib. I always appreciate your creative perspective on the topics here and elsewhere.

      ~S

  3. I’d say the economy of statement is important to translators too. Lately, when I (re+)proofread my translations, I try to make them shorter, I try to remove words that seem to add nothing to the meaning, or replace them with shorter synonym phrases (if possible and if the translation remains consistent with the style, terminology, etc.). This should be done very carefully, of course, to make sure you don’t exclude or add anything to the meaning of the source text.

    As a matter of fact, I realize more and more that translators and writers have very common activities, issues, etc. How come they don’t collaborate more? :) There should be freelance writers & translators associations :)
    Veronica Lupascu recently posted..How much do translators charge for translating Google AdWords?My Profile

    • What a great idea, Veronica — a writers & translators association! We could definitely help one another. Magda (who commented below) is a translator too and we’ve learned so much from one another, I think. I know numerous translators. Maybe we should organize a monthly tweet chat or something where we discuss three or four topics each time that will help us in our respective work. Collaboration always gets a gold star from me!

      Thank you so much for stopping by. I’m going to check out your site later today when things slow down a bit.

      XO
      ~S

  4. Hello Samantha, as I said I am back… from time to time checking your informative blog! Anyway, I am always trying my best to write precisely, as you know I am not a native speaker – it’s my major problem until now. I do not know if my blog post contains unnecessary words, vague sentences and the like, but I believe that through constant practice I can achieve that!

    “Economy Statement” is new to me, but I guess this is related to the definition of the American academic essay as well. As I am writing few essays following the American style, I learned that American people are in a hurry, so therefore writer must be precise and direct to the point in his writings!

    Through writing post for SB, and doing my best to give my customers a quality essay, I am equipping myself with the necessarily skills and techniques to be precise enough.
    Prime Aque recently posted..How to Increase Neobux Earnings Fast – 2012 Guide plus Referral BonusMy Profile

    • You have extremely good writing skills for a non-native speaker, Prime. Heck, you have better writing skills than a LOT of native speakers (sadly). I see so many born and bred Americans who can’t put a coherent sentence together. I usually give them a break if they aren’t putting themselves out there as “writers”, but even a non-writer (say — a mechanic or an accountant) should have the ability to communicate effectively with the written word.

      You do a great job. We all have more to learn. When I went through the process of researching Hemingway’s method when writing this article, I saw so much more that I have to learn. Learning increases my personal power and the ability for my business to thrive and help others.

      Keep working at it and you’ll shine even brighter than you do now! xo

      • People like you Samantha do help me to believe in myself. There was a time that I thought I cannot really write the way American though (native speakers) when I have submitted a guest post and the editor told me I have a poor English so my article was not accepted. But instead of quitting, I challenge myself more to write flawlessly, I many sound like you, but I am here to write and express myself…

        And I came to a biggest challenge, the new blog I have told you in my other comments here… I hope I can make it, and you are my inspiration :)
        Prime Aque recently posted..Smart Tips to Expand Your Online BusinessMy Profile

Trackbacks

  1. [...] or Extended Circles catch-all groups when you share. For example, if you share something about how to improve writing, share it with a writing circle and any other distinct circles that include those who might find [...]

  2. [...] A person who writes, keeps a blog, or otherwise writes on a nominal basis – whether nominal refers to pay rate or portfolio size, may call him- or herself a writer, but that doesn’t make it so. Thousands of self-described “professional writers” tout themselves as ghostwriters on their digital resumes and personal websites. Ghostwriters must keep the identity of their clients a secret, so verification can prove difficult if you don’t know what to look for. [...]

  3. [...] A person who writes, keeps a blog, or otherwise writes on a nominal basis – whether nominal refers to pay rate or portfolio size, may call him- or herself a writer, but that doesn’t make it so. Thousands of self-described “professional writers” tout themselves as ghostwriters on their digital resumes and personal websites. Ghostwriters must keep the identity of their clients a secret, so verification can prove difficult if you don’t know what to look for. [...]

  4. [...] hashtags that people can easily remember and use. Think economy of statement when coming up with hashtags. Your followers might confuse or misspell the words in an overdone [...]

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