“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”
Back in the days when Mark Twain was a riverboat pilot, steamships ruled the Mississippi. When a railroad decided to build a bridge over the river, the steamboat companies brought a law suit against it and hired Judge Wead, a famous transportation lawyer, to argue its case. After days of testimony, he gave a powerful , two-hour summation to loud applause.
When the lawyer for the Rock Island Railroad wrapped up his case, his talk took one minute. In a nutshell, here’s what he said: “I never heard a finer speech, but Judge Wead has obscured the main issue…The only question for you to decide is man has more right to travel up and down the river than he does to cross it.”
Abraham Lincoln won the landmark case for the railroad in 60 seconds with a handful of well-chosen words. Later, at Gettysburg, the man who preceded Lincoln spoke for two hours; the “Gettysburg Address” took all of two minutes to deliver, but it stands as one of the most famous speeches ever given. Abraham Lincoln was a master of brevity: Every word in the “Gettysburg Address” is essential: nothing is superfluous. In every line, lyricism and simplicity go hand in hand.
As we spin our stories, let’s remember that making every word count counts. Balancing lush, world-building prose with clarity and simplicity is a goal worth striving for. As you write, consider this: Genesis tells the story of the creation of the world in 442 words — that’s about two pages of text. Whoever wrote it must have known a thing or two about simplicity and self-editing. Write on!