Wordy Wisdom: Too Much of a Good Thing

It’s the month of March, which means all sorts of things.

  • It means that the weather feels the need to act like a cantankerous lion for the next few weeks before retreating into wooly, warm spring.
  • It means that there are Ides to beware (which could be good or bad depending on whether or not you are an emperor.)Beware-the-ides-of-March-730709
  • It means that for just one day, everyone will suddenly believe in leprechauns (which impresses the leprechauns not at all).
  • It also means that the days are ticking by, and there is a great, long manuscript awaiting editing on my digital desktop.  Editing is not my favorite thing, to be quite honest.  I like creating new material more than I like niggling over the old stuff.  And it’s never done.

Because I must suffer through this editing process, I thought that I would allow our faithful readers to suffer a bit, too.  I’m just nice like that.

So, while March grumbles and blunders toward April, I am going to discuss one of the areas in which I struggle the most when it come to writing: wordiness.

I love words.  This is a good thing, since I also like to write. Words are fun.   They can be played with and manipulated and built one atop the other into grand and glorious statements of deep meaning.  I can make my readers laugh with them.  I can shock and dismay with them.

Unfortunately, there is such thing as using too many words, and I have this problem.  Case in point, let’s take a look at how long it took me to get to the point of my post.  I’d like to say that I made my post wordy on purpose as a teaching exercise, but this is actually just my problem with using too many words.  Like “actually.”  “Actually” didn’t need to be there.  Sorry.

I think many times, we writers get so excited to see words appearing on the page in front of us that we forget that quantity is only a partial triumph.  We become so enthralled with a delightful turn of phrase that we don’t realize a much shorter sentence might do the trick just as well, and our readers would thank us for it, too.   We add the perfect adjective, and the sentence starts to shake.  We carefully nudge an adverb into place, and it begins to tip.  We throw on a semicolon so we can keep going; the sentence tumbles over in a heap of excellent, frustrating words.

wordiness calvin and hobbes academia writing

For the next few weeks, I’m going to talk more about words – misused words and overused words and ways that we could let our words serve our purposes better.  In this struggle of mine, I’d like to explore our options. How can we create something beautiful with our words without stepping over the line of what is good into something florid, exaggerated, or dull?  When is that extra word necessary and when have we said enough?

I should probably stop writing now before this wordy post on wordiness gets any wordier.


5 thoughts on “Wordy Wisdom: Too Much of a Good Thing

  1. I have the same problem. In fact, when I submitted my essay for my English course in December, I got a comment back stating if it weren’t for my love of run-on sentences I’d have gotten an A+.

    My biggest problem, though, is the word “just.” It seems to appear in more sentences than it doesn’t and usually it doesn’t need to be there. I just need it to add extra oomph to what I’m saying because I tend to be an enthusiastic person but it just doesn’t need to be there. See what I mean?

    If wordiness is your trouble, I can’t think of that as a bad thing. Imagine how many quirky sentences you’ve discovered because you love to throw words, will-nilly, into a sentence. I’d much rather have trouble with too many words than not enough.

    Good luck with the editing!

    1. Oh yes, “just” is a bad one for me too. I don’t know why, but it just adds something to the sentence. I think we consider it a way to put tone into a sentence. Frustrating to go back and realize how often it comes up, though!

      I am not often apologetic for my long, fancy sentences. My excuse is to call it “my style.” Take that, Twain.

  2. In high school I struggled to get enough words, but by my middle college years I was always going too wordy. I finally found even ground, but I’ll tell you, even now in a work setting, overly-wordy emails and business writing irks me to no end. There’s a place for long, flowery sentences, but most of the world wants definition and clarity. It’s a skill worth obtaining!

    On a completely different note, that Calvin & Hobbes comic had me howling!! You can tell Bill Watterson is a Liberal Arts major.

    1. I have been too wordy since before I learned how to write (according to my parents), so it is a consistent problem for me. For my first master’s degree, the committee chair of my thesis indulged my love of words (I think he loves them as much as I do), and I got away with a thesis that was 30 pages longer than the maximum. In my second master’s program, my two supervisors were both very strict and forced me to learn to say what I meant to say with half as many words. It was a painful lesson, but I was much prouder of that work in the end.

      (Calvin and Hobbes are my favorites. I particularly love the comics that have to do with grammar or writing. They are brilliant!)

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