Minimalism - the secret to great writing?
I’m reading the most incredibly inspiring book at the moment. Called Everything That Remains, it’s a memoir of Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus’s discovery of minimalism.
As something of a hoarder, it challenged and excited me in equal measure, and I’m currently in the process of a rather extreme declutter of my home.
But Millburn and Nicodemus’ minimalist philosophy doesn’t just apply to stuff. They extend it to relationships, careers, internet consumption… like I said, challenging but exciting.
As I was reading, I realised minimalism is something you can - and should - apply to writing too.
Making the cut
When you have only 51 possessions, as minimalist traveller Colin Wright does, there’s no room for dross. Every single item needs to add value to your life.
The same goes for writing. Splattering thoughts onto a page at random won’t cut it. With reader attention spans increasingly short - more suited to Twitter soundbites than long-form writing - each word needs care and thought.
While the number required for any given piece of marketing will vary (less for social media, more for a blog post) the overarching goal should be to use only the number you need - really need - and no more.
In fact, whenever you finish a piece of writing, I challenge you to reduce the word count by 10%*. Bet you can find waste words that aren’t strictly needed.
Part of the authors’ approach is about being more deliberate. For example, as an experiment, Millburn decided to forgo home internet for several weeks.
Of course, he still had to do research, check emails, publish blog posts and so on. So whenever the need arose, he wrote down the activity and then occasionally he would take a trip to a cafe, library or friend’s house to catch up on these jobs, rather than frittering away his time at home.
As a result, he was able to focus on more important things such as his relationships and actually getting on with writing the novel he always dreamed of writing.
When we’re forced to work within limits, we have to think a little bit harder about what we’re doing. That’s why it can take as long to write a brand strapline as it does to bash out a 600 word blog post.
Next time you’re browsing the internet, think about how many words each site uses and which most appeal to you. Chances are they’ll be the concise ones rather than those that waffle on.
As we always tell our clients, you don’t need many words, just the right ones.
(*I took up my own challenge for this very blog post and ditched 51 words).