The author William Zinsser died recently, and his obituary in the New York Times prompted me to start reading his highly acclaimed book, On Writing Well. The book had been recommended by several writers I respect, including John Gruber of my favorite Apple web site, Daring Fireball.
The book begins with a firm exhortation to simplify:
“Look for the clutter in your writing and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Reexamine each sentence you put on paper. Is every word doing new work? Can any thought be expressed with more economy? Is anything pompous or pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something useless just because you think it’s beautiful?
I’m two chapters in to Zinsser’s book and already more aware of how sloppy my writing is. I just went back to the post I wrote yesterday and trimmed a few unnecessary words.
Writing should serve a purpose, and anything that detracts from that purpose should be eliminated. Simplify. Do less, better.
This is good advice for writing, but it applies well to living, too.
Consider the passage above with these changes:
“Look for the clutter in your life and prune it ruthlessly. Be grateful for everything you can throw away. Reexamine every thing (or commitment or relationship) you put in your life. Is every thing doing new (or meaningful) work? Can any task be done with more economy? Is anything pompous or pretentious or faddish? Are you hanging on to something (or someone) useless just because you think it’s (or he’s/she’s) beautiful?