Unlearning wordiness

Quotes I think about everyday:

1. A. Schopenhauer: Use ordinary words and say extraordinary things.
2. K. Vonnegut: If you can’t write clearly, you probably don’t think nearly as well as you think you do.
3. R. Ferriols: Bakit ka nagtatago sa gubat ng salita?

The last one can be translated as:

– Why are you hiding in a forest of words?
– Why do you insist on hiding behind a forest of words?

It’s true. It’s much harder to say what you mean in the simplest way possible. I am attesting to this, being in the process of trying to write a total of 20,000 words in three weeks. Academics like to justify their verbosity, their inscrutability, by saying that the ideas being communicated are themselves complex and irreducible to everyday language. My feeling is that, apart from a handful of truly intelligent writers (who prudently refrain from making any such justification in the first place), this is pure crap.

The truth is that saying extraordinary things in an ordinary way is very hard. Because then it’s not about the words, it’s about the voice that speaks (or writes), and the thought being spoken (or written). That takes more work, and time, and courage, than churning out 20,000 words in three weeks.

A hard lesson for me to learn. Wordiness is something I find hard to unlearn. I am good with words. I rely on words too much: when I don’t know what I want to say and am stalling for time (or meeting word requirements), when I do know what I want to say but I refuse to say it, when I don’t know what to say and am terrified that you, Reader, will figure me out.

Listening seems to be far more difficult, and far more fulfilling. It’s all internal work, microshiftings of muscle to keep the balance. It’s undetectable, so the recognition rarely comes.

But an attentive speaker knows when she is being listened to. Often that speaker is one who has no need to hide in the forest of words. She is free to walk into the depth and breadth of the space created by listening.


  1. and i quoted you in this entry 😉

  2. helloise says:

    Wow, thanks! I don’t think the link is working though… Is it on your EW blog?

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