Writing less may seem an odd technique for a freelance writer, but if you’re like me you find it easy to get caught up in a certain kind of writing. Maybe it’s the 500 word blog post that you do eight times a month for pretty good pay. Or perhaps you’ve engaged in a 5 or 10 minute writing discipline like the one I’ve been experimenting with. Or possibly you’re a regular contributor to a magazine and write monthly articles of 5,000 words or more, plus research. You could book the author of a book series, or a TV show or…
Whatever kind of writing you do regularly, I’m going to bet that you do it much more quickly now than when you first started.
It’s sort of the nature of the beast it seems. Not only is it hard to get worse at something you practice, there’s a tendency to do whatever you practice more rapidly as you become truly proficient.
While in many ways learning to write faster is desirable, there is, if we’re not paying attention, a downside. That’s the key I think, paying or not paying attention. When done well it often results in actually writing less.
I can move into a rapid writing space that is highly focused and productive. I also have a rapid writing space that is darn close to unconscious, and not in a good way. Oh the words get down and the sentences are complete, but it ends up being less than stellar writing.
It’s not just about using fewer words
Lifehacker has a nifty article called Write Less, Say More: The Power of Brevity which has some truly clever examples of turning the verbose into pith. Wordy, as author Danny Rubin makes clear, is not good writing, except when it is, of course.
While fewer words is often the key to writing that communicates, it’s the paying attention that takes an awkward, rambling sentence into a short statement that says precisely what you mean.
On the other hand, it was paying attention to exact meanings, I believe, that led R. Buckminster Fuller to have some of the longest sentences imaginable. If you haven’t read any of his works, try Critical Path. Your library will have it most likely. Not only does he talk about what could still become real solutions for many of the world’s problems today, you’ll find a style of writing that is probably different than any you’ve read. Many of his sentences are long, very long. Yet every one, if you take a deep breath and plumb for it’s meaning, tends to be a gem.
About paying attention
The kind of attention I’m talking about is not just the focusing on what you’re writing, although that’s part of it. Nor is it turning off the music, which also helps. It’s not about turning off your email or cell phone either while you’re writing – you know that helps.
For me, at least, this kind of attention while writing is almost a listening within – listening to what some call the ‘still, small voice’ we all seem to have access to if we’re open to it.
That same attitude of inward listening attention helps us with the rewriting and editing as well.
This type of attention I find does take more time. It often results in fewer words. My writing from this place tends to inform first me about things I didn’t know I knew, and potentially gives access to those same, mostly fresh approaches to readers.
I think of this type of attention as more of a practice than anything else, practice in the sense that we get better at it the more we do of it. Not unlike learning the piano, or mediation, or playing tennis well. Fortunately it’s a skill I find you can open yourself to.
Try writing less while opening to paying attention, and let us know what works best for you? Or perhaps you’re already doing this; tell us more about your approach.
Write well and often,
You will get a free ebook about writing when you subscribe to our newsletter.