I’ve always thought of myself as a good writer. Then, I started grad school.
In my doctoral program, I write anywhere from 1,000 to 7,500 words a week to satisfy my class assignments. Then, there’s my dissertation. For that, I crank out at least another 3,000 words a week. After edits from my committee chair, though, it can be a net loss over the prior week.
Although I write a lot in school, only two of the dozen or so classes I have taken thus far has focused on writing. These classes have been invaluable.
These two courses emphasized word economy. Whereas before I might describe ‘the ways in which’, now I just say ‘how’. For someone who not only loves words but also the sound of her own voice, it’s been a tough transition. However, the goal is to be profound, not simply profuse.
Although it’s been attributed to everyone from Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln to Mark Twain and Henry David Thoreau, Blaise Pascal was the first to write that he sent a long letter because he didn’t have time to compose a short one. It sounds cooler in French.
Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.Blaise Pascal, 1656
When I write, I must pare down my sentences. I want to communicate simply and with impact. I’ve found that it is harder to speak succinctly. In addition to improving my academic work, this focus has benefited my mental health.
Writing this way forces me to consider each word. Is it relevant? Is it true? Is it necessary? It’s been great for excising the fluff. Jerk Brain is full of fluff. Jerk Brains lies. Jerk Brain never shuts up. The discipline I have gained from transforming my writing now helps me to fend off Jerk Brain. I still get lost in its narrative from time to time, but I am far better at recognizing when the messaging is not serving me and stopping it.