I am not a robot, nor do I cut like one.

Have you been harassed by the writing-efficiency taskmasters? Have they told you that you should edit out every redundant word until your writing (in effect) is cut to the bone? Sounds to me like a butcher in a meat market.
 
I always want to point out to them that I am not a robot!
 
 
Let me explain. Language is more than mathematics, just like reality is more than the physical universe alone.
Language is a higher language than the so-called language of math (as beneficial as mathematics can certainly be and has been). It is a mistake to try to apply scientific reasoning to the language we speak, read, write, and think with–at least when it comes to doing such things. Such misapplication can kill language, limit its meaning, make it just about unreadable. 
 
Cut until your writing bleeds?
I’ve heard it said that words such as “really” and “very” and various other imprecise terms and colloquialisms should be edited out of one’s writing (maybe even one’s speech). But, to me, that can be the pathway to impoverishment of communication. But is the word “really” really meaningless and empty? I don’t think so. I’ve read some writing, precise and well-defined, but cut to the bone so much that it is definitely not reader-friendly. In fact (sorry!), it’s a chore to read. Needlessly a chore.
 
Language is not a science.
Nor should we try to confine it in lockstep to logic and reason. It is more than that. It is subjective as well as objective (who among us is ever totally and purely subjective?). It is human.
 
And when writing patterns itself to a degree after the way we talk, with all the expressiveness of being a person, all the quirkiness of being a unique individual, and even includes a word here and there that doesn’t strictly-speaking really need to be there to be precise–it still can communicate very well indeed.
 
I don’t know about you, but in front of my monitor, I for one will not let the sometimes rigid, super-conservative and occasionally cold and unfeeling gods of business–efficiency and profit–kill my writing. I am not a machine to be judged by my efficiency or even by the standard of perfect accuracy. I am not a computer. I am not a robot. Not even an android. Really, I don’t even want to be cloned.
 
Does editing out superfluous wordiness help a piece of writing? Of course it does. In spite of what I wrote above, I advocate careful editing and cutting. But must we students of the writing craft insist on going to extremes in that direction? I don’t think so. 
 
Moderation, my fellow writers. 
 
Moderation. Really.

10 thoughts on “I am not a robot, nor do I cut like one.

  1. admin Post author

    Hi Priska.
    For a beginning writer you’re doing well, actually better that some “not so beginning” writers I’ve read.
    Thanks for reading.
    P.S. Moderation is frequently a slightly tricky judgment call. We improve with the writing we do. How do we improve? Well, many ways–reading, comments from others (on our blindspots), reading about how to write better, and lots of words put on pages.

    Reply
  2. betsyborchardt

    Hi Bill,
    I have recently been wondering about this aspect of my writing. Thank you for writing this post. It clears up my mind and tells me I’m OK with not cutting everything. I’m not a robot, either. I think all good writers always seek moderation. And I’m going to continue to allow the characters in my stories to talk as real people talk, too. They portray people prone to imperfection.
    Betsy

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Thanks Betsy, glad you read it.
      By the way, both books on the agenda for discussion at Huddle this month and next and gems. K. M. Weiland is a fine Christian lady and awesome fiction writer. And Wired for Story coming up in february is one of the best I’ve read on story writing (I don’t agree with the author’s attitude at every point, but her points are excellent).

      Reply
  3. Maria Smith

    Hello Bill,

    I agree, we shouldn’t kill our writing to suit others. I generally air my work to a group of ten to twelve writers around the table on a Saturday morning. I listen to their comments and make notes, and if something is constantly mentioned I’ll look at it again. However, I won’t change everything just to suit someones idea of what they think it should be…

    I wouldn’t feel like I was being creative otherwise.

    Reply
  4. admin Post author

    Thanks Marie,
    I felt I was going “out on a limb” a bit expressing my opinion rather strongly. So it’s encouraging to hear agreement. 🙂
    Nice of you to visit.

    Reply
  5. Steve Maurer

    Hi, Bill.

    I agree with you up to a point. However, there are some instances where I feel cuts are necessary. And it’s not necessarily the fault of the unfeeling gods of business. Obviously, this pertains more to the copywriting and non-fiction world than to poetry and fiction.

    If a modifier restates the intent of the noun or verb and doesn’t add additional meaning, why use it? In some cases it may even weaken it. For example, the phrase “I want to be absolutely honest about this” really makes no sense. Is there any other way to be, well, honest? It may raise doubts about the writer’s integrity. Has he been dishonest with me on other things? You’re either honest or you’re not.

    Sometimes adverbs and adjectives promote redundancy. For example: “The radio blared loudly.” Can a radio blare softly? If “loudly” serves a purpose, keep it. But if not, if the sentence won’t suffer with out it, cut it out.

    As to “very” and “really,” these words are useful. Even so, they are sometimes just clutter according to William Zinsser in “On Writing Well.”

    Prose written for literary use might contain words and wording not used in language or writing for expressing thought. Ultimately, it is up to the writer (unless under contract) to determine the style of usage. I write more on the conservative, economical side. In fact, I have the six rules that George Orwell presented in his work, “Politics and the English Language.” Here they are:

    1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
    2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
    3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
    4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
    5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
    6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

    Rule 6 gives us all the breathing room to express ourselves as we see fit.

    Reply
  6. admin Post author

    Sure Steve, I agree.

    I like rule 6. Definitely don’t agree with rule 3, Just because you can cut doesn’t mean you should.

    This particular mind-set (rule 3) is primarily what I was reacting against. I don’t believe terseness is necessarily the standard of good writing and definitely not for great writing (and praised as William Zinsser often is, I don’t always agree with him [sorry, heresy, I know!]).

    And, with regard to my use of “business” as a backdrop for my point(s), I suspect that the marketing influence on the web/blogging to achieve a strongly pared-down style is not necessarily a good influence on our language. It certainly seems to be on the way to becoming a widely-accepted standard of what good writing is, as least on the Web.

    But I’m not against cutting out superfluous words. I do it all the time. Cutting is a part, and an important one, when revising. But I don’t believe in cutting in any particular place in my writing because someone’s rule says I should. I would rather go by good sense (and I hope I do most times). And I do advise against going to an extreme–whether we’re talking cutting or not cutting.

    Reply
  7. Pingback: Some good editing advise on the Writing Forward blog |

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