While writing for my weekly blog feature, ‘Thoughts for Friday’, I was struck by the realisation of how many times I use the word ‘that’ in the first drafts of my writing. I’m sure I am not the only person who would admit to doing so – my writing partner confessed recently that she does exactly the same thing.
At first I put it down to the fact that I’m a Brit (we like to use 100 words when 10 will usually suffice), I had assumed my excessive verbiage was nothing more than a toffee-nosed, patriotic Englishwoman exercising her God-given right to use as many words of her mother tongue as humanly possible in one sentence.
Using so many superfluous words does tend to make one sound awfully posh, doesn’t it? It’s just a shame that creating the world’s most convoluted sentence won’t win you many admirers for your potentially publishable prose.
The truth is that I am not actually all that posh (though I am 100% British). I have an awful accent which is not in any way in keeping with the clichéd idea of a Brit. My language skills and mockney-cockney accent are not exactly worthy of Cambridge scholars. In fact, I am the least posh Brit you are ever likely to stumble across.
So why do I always feel the need to add so many extra words to a sentence? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I try each day to get as many words written as possible so I can then pat myself on the back at the end of each month when I read over my word count: ‘Blimey, Heather. You sure wrote a lot of words this month!’ I gleefully tell myself at the month’s end, feeling superior to the mere amateur writer I was last year.
But is adding superfluous words that you know you’re going to take out on second, third and fourth drafts really cheating? Why shouldn’t I try to nail down as many words as I can each day? Surely it doesn’t matter if I take them back out again, they still count – right?
My mother once told me that I would have made a great politician. I think she meant in regard to my excessive verbiage and that I could talk at someone for hours, throwing multiple convoluted sentences at them until they admitted defeat and subsequently begged for mercy for their poor, bashed-into-submission ears.
Maybe I think it makes me sound more intelligent if I use more words than are strictly necessary when making a point about something. To be honest, it probably has the opposite effect and makes me look like nothing more than a waffling idiot.
I like to read and it is through doing so that I stumble across new words, ones which I file away in my mind for future use. Isn’t it only natural that I would want to use such words in my writing and show how cultured and well-educated I am?
The truth is that I am neither. I am just a writer afflicted by a condition that compels me to use more words than I actually need to. I am working hard on curbing my natural instinct to want to add so many unneeded words to my work and I thank the Lord that there are such things as second and third edits, otherwise this blog post would be 20-30% longer than it is now…..
When verbal diarrhoea strikes, I know a fool-proof cure to stop it dead in its tracks by remembering the age-old phrase: ‘Less is more.’