Don’t Circle Your Target

Why write 3 full paragraphs leading up to your main point in your writing, when you can do it in one? I asked myself this question after reading a recent blog post, “The Art of Submission: Inquiring After Our Work.” Good title. I was interested in reading the post.

Like most nonfiction writers, I read anything I can get my hands on when it comes to guides and self-help books on writing. In my reading travels, I have never come across the writing expert telling his reader to write adapting a particular verbose angle concerning writing about something to explain his point. In more precise words, the author is not suggesting you use lots of added words in your writing to get to your point. You are only circling your target.

I found this post to be circling when she wrote about conducting an experiment. She wanted to see what would happen when she asked editors about the status of her submission. She told us what she did for her experiment but not until the fifth paragraph and a summary of her findings was revealed in the second to last parapraph. After almost 900 words and 10 paragraphs with one sentence breaks thrown in between some paragraphs, I believe this post could be better written and more effective if she cut her words to half the total.

A highly respected writer, editor and teacher, William Zinsser, who passed away recently, wrote “On Writing Well.” This is a valuable classic guide to writing nonfiction and should be an often visited staple to every nonfiction writer’s reading list.

Zinsser gets right to it in the first paragraph, second chapter, “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular construction, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon.” He believes the secret to good writing is stripping every sentence to its cleanest components. “Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what . . . weakens the strength of a sentence.

Though I appreciated the conversational, informal tone of this writer’s blog, she lost me as I started to read. I looked for the answer to “What is she trying to say” in her first two paragraphs and it wasn’t until paragraphs later, I think I may have understood.

According to Zinsser, writers should inherently query themelves: what am I trying to say? Look at what you wrote and ask: have I said it?

Don’t circle your target. Aim for it and hit it every time.

She ended her blog with good insight about how she felt about her experiment. Her post was more focused and I could answer my own question to what she was trying to say. Her good wrap-up hit the target.

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