Being a recovering heavy packer myself, I’ve noticed something. Confident travellers (typically people who travel a lot) tend to pack light. Really confident travellers – including women with lots of beautiful clothes, not just men grabbing a suit and tie for another quick business trip – almost never have to check a bag in when they’re flying. As Diane von Furstenberg said, “I get ideas about what’s essential when packing my suitcase.”
Packing light can become a kind of game, a test of your own nerve and good judgement. So can writing light.
I’m leading nine writing workshops this autumn (three down, six to go), which means I’ve been reading masses of writing. Sometimes I can tell when you – the “dear writer” out there — feel uncertain. It’s as if you’re worrying that it will freeze in Marbella in August, so you decide to stuff a fleece into the bag, just in case. When you’re writing, you worry that your reader won’t know everything your charity does, so you pack more words into every sentence.
It’s only when you think like a reader yourself that you can see how much those sentences weigh. That’s why workshops are so valuable. You get to read other people’s writing. Right away you’ll notice how many writers use “doubles” to cover all bases. Here are some examples, straight from recent workshops:
presentation and production
set up and grow small businesses
break free and become independent
areas of social and economic deprivation
the teaching and learning of the national curriculum
promote and encourage cultural participation
nationally and internationally renowned
successful and wide-reaching
health and happiness
new and thought-provoking
difficulty and disadvantage
I know that “health” and “happiness” don’t mean the same thing. The same goes for all the other pairs of words. But when the writers had the courage to choose just one word (or even cut both), the writing felt stronger. “Areas of social and economic deprivation” could become “poor neighbourhoods”, for example – reducing the word count by four. “Nationally and internationally renowned?” How about just “renowned”? As for “health and happiness”, the workshop writers agreed that “happiness” was what really mattered in the proposal. Standing all by itself, the word carried much more emotional weight.
Go for it. Comb through your prose and find the doubles. Dare to cut at least one word from each pair. Read it out loud and see if it sounds more confident. And Marbella in August? Forget the fleece.