Confession: This week, Stephanie at Blue Elephant Creative reminded me that not all of my great ideas and words need to see the light of day.
She was right. I was being very precious about my words. I was treating every half-baked idea and dashed off sentence as if they were gold and couldn’t possibly be parted with.
So not true.
And I know this. I nudge my clients all the time to pare back the gunk, cut out the word flab, delete a well-written phrase if it doesn’t serve the bigger message. I even wrote a guest blog post a few years back on this very topic.
Clearly, I needed to reread it. Maybe you do, too, so here it is:
One of the dangers of writing is that we can fall in love with our words. Even the wrong words. And like a bad boyfriend, these ill-suited words are clung to even though they do us no good and our friends can’t figure out what the heck we’re doing with them.
I know I am guilty. Some of my drafts have included phrases that made me beam with pride at how clever I could be. That pride stayed even as I was editing and could see that I was letting cleverness win over clarity.
Sometimes even the good stuff needs to get cut from our work. If we want to write well, we can’t be too precious about our words.
Bernie Taupin understands this. He has written the lyrics to some of the most enduring songs of the last 40+ years. If his name doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps you know his main songwriting partner, Elton John? Maybe you’ve heard the songs “Candle In the Wind,” “Tiny Dancer” or “Rocket Man?”
The list of songs he’s written is huge, yet those words that we’ve memorized and sing along to remain just words to him.
He said in an interview that he has a “really bad memory of my own work” then proved it by telling the story of watching a TV quiz show where one of the question categories was his own lyrics. “I believe there were five questions,” Bernie said, “and I got four of them wrong.”
That is the epitome of not being too precious about your words.
Be like Bernie. Don’t get too invested in your every word, especially the ones you suspect (or know but don’t want to admit) don’t really belong. The delete key is your friend. If that seems too painful, create a separate file where all the bits you’ve edited out can live.
Those “golden” words aren’t really gold if they are blocking your message clarity.