Clutter is the disease of American writing,” William Zinsser said.
He means that much of our writing is bloated with fluff that adds nothing. He cites examples like, “We no longer head committees. We head them up. We don’t face problems anymore. We face up to them when we can free up a few minutes” [emphasis added].
This is important, he says, because “Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there.”
As an editor, I must agree with Zinsser, though it pains the writer in me. Why do we writers add so much fluff?
Most fill their drafts with clutter because they’re trying to hit a word count or sound unique. Clutter does add length, but it distracts the reader. And you don’t have to write more to find or strengthen your voice. Zinsser correctly notes, “Most first drafts can be cut by fifty percent without losing any information or losing the author’s voice.”
If your goal is to serve the reader, then cut the clutter, starting with these common culprits of cluttered writing.