“I’m sorry to have written such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one”. This quote has been attributed variously to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln and Blaise Pascal. Many quotes are erroneously attributed, but in this case there is evidence that Blaise Pascal, Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln all used the quote or versions of it.
The famous book Elements Of Style by Strunk and White advises writers to go through their work and remove any word which can be removed without altering the meaning of the text. Sydney Smith, founder of The Edinburgh Review in the 19th Century advised; “In composing, as a general rule, run your pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigor it will give your style.”
It may be impractical to follow this advice exactly, but the spirit of the idea is good advice. The writing process can gain from the creative throwing down of a stream of conciousness onto paper, but then the writer has to put on the hat of the editor and ruthlessly remove unnecessary words. It’s not easy and successful writers have access to professional editors who will do this for them.
For the beginner the challenge is to be ruthless with your work. It’s a skill and practice will make you a better writer.