Constrained Writing

Constrain thyselfWhen it comes to effective writing, economy is as important as word choice or syntax. The old never use two words where one will do maxim is more important than ever; most people are pressed for time, and wading through a lot of extraneous words doesn't help. In an attempt to apply this idea to my own writing, I use poetry as a training method for tightening up the prose in my other, less than poetic writing.

The logic of this exercise becomes clear when you think about a poetic style like Haiku. Since you have only seventeen syllables to work with, economy is of the essence. Thus constrained, the repeated challenge of so tightly encapsulating a given concept results in conscious scrutiny of which words are truly necessary. Haiku is an extreme, but the idea is to enforce a limit; it's easy to get carried away when you have an entire page to play with. Compact and powerful, poetry at its best proves the pen's might.

So this is the goal: that every word should tell. Strunk and White may have lived in a different age, but many of their guiding principles remain perfectly valid today. If less is more, simplify.


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