Writing… winnowing out the packing peanuts

 
 
“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing
 
“So many large words, as though syllables will hide the truth” Sharon Mock, She Walks in Shadows
 
“Vigorous writing is concise.” Walter Strunk Jr.
 
As a software person, I try to keep aware of the technologies available to me. Whether I choose to use them or not. Part of my awareness program is reading articles and white papers. One issue I find, more often than not, is superfluous and, often, hyperbolic text jammed around the meat of what I need to consume. For instance, I am reading more and more about something called NoSQL databases. I am aware of what they are, and generally enough of how they work. But I’m trying to make clear to myself when and where one would choose this form of database. Almost every article I read has so much fluff surrounding the core thesis, it makes it difficult to find the “bullet points” I need. Things such as, “in response to the voluminous rise of chaotic data”, or “the original design of relational databases do not meet the exponentially growing needs of scaling and agility of modern applications.” I have purposefully altered the text so no one source will stand out. It is often exasperating to try to find the information inside all this hyperbolic jargon. And yet, I am guilty of the same thing.
 
When I write for pleasure, mostly fiction, I find quite often my eyes straying to the word count. “Cool, almost a thousand words so far in my short story!” Yet after allowing my fevered brain to cool off a bit and re-read the story, I typically find no single thread of my original plot line, and so many tangental strays it’s hard to count them. My dilemma then is, do I just command-a and delete, or spend the time trying to sort the whole mess out. The former is usually the best choice. Hemingway said, “write drunk, and edit sober.” Sadly my sober writing self makes my editor self need a drink.
 
Writers write. Or so my lizard brain tends to think. Therefore if I want to be a writer, then by god I need to write. Words. Lots of them. That there is writing wouldn’t ya’ say? Hmmm. Maybe not. Think of when you get that couch-sized box delivered, and after tearing into it you find a single pen you’ve ordered… buried somewhere in millions of packing peanuts. And you think, *jeez, what a total waste.* That’s the fluff. That’s the purple prose. That’s the useless crap that gets in the way of what you really need. And if I can just sit back for a minute and sip a mint julep (well Ernest, I guess I won’t be editing now) and just remember what it is I love, and have so loved, about reading, I’ll most likely notice it is the “S” word. The story. Oh yeah, I’ve heard of those. Tolkien drew me into a wonderful fantasy world filled with darkness, but then pulled back a curtain to show the spark of joy and hope that can be gleaned from even the darkest of nights. Bradbury, Clark, Heinlein, and so many others blew my mind out of the stratosphere, and showed me the marvels of the universe. And the universe’s perils. Donaldson tripped my brain on other worlds where everything I thought I knew was turned on its head. And a protagonist who often acted as the converse. “Why?!” I’d shout in my head as Halfhand did some other horrible thing. The more words the better? No, not really. Yep, it’s the stories, not the words. Well, sort of. Words are the communication medium writers use to give us the story. But the greatest writers, the ones we want to read anyway, are the ones who tune these worded stories to a razor’s edge (another great story) to slip us into his or her vision. It’s like a radio signal to our brain, and no static at all. So all you writers (including tech writers), take note. Leave out the fluff, tune us in, and we’ll tap our foot to your tune with no static. At all.
 
Peace, love, and light.
 
Marv

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