Why Economy in Writing is Important
Copywriters write simply.
Sometimes there’s wordplay. Sometimes poetry. But ideas come first, and they must be effortless to grasp.
Copywriting in its purest form is a sales message. The impact of which cannot be lost to flowery language.
Economy is not exclusive to copywriting either. It’s part of exceptional writing.
Never use a long word
Where a short one will do. A tip made famous by George Orwell. It was his response to ‘government speak’, which is often vague and misleading. A tool for control, not clarity. See Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946).
The point is less about length, and more about complexity. In short, never use an obscure word where a common one will do. Obviously, not everything can be described with standard words. Occasionally, complex imagery requires complex language. You can’t recreate James Joyce’s Ulysses with a Hungry Caterpillar vocabulary. Despite the wails of students struggling to finish it with their pride intact.
Whether a word is short, long, or odd doesn’t matter. What matters is its fitness for purpose. If it can be swapped for a more accessible one and retain meaning, do it. If not, readers will survive. The point here is that we think about our word choice carefully.
Wordy words muddy meaning
Regardless of form–ad copy, a blog, journalism, prose, poetry–all writing is attempting to transmit something into the reader’s mind. Images, thoughts, feelings, important information. Whatever it is, there’s intent behind it. The author wants you to see what they see. Know what they know. Feel what they feel.
Steven King, in his memoir On Writing, refers to this as telepathy–a “meeting of the minds”.
King’s telepathy fails if his writing is impenetrable and no care is placed on his word choice.
She locomoted herself bipedally astride the foreshore, surveying the crepuscular light disseminating over the bay.
She walked along the beach watching the ocean sunset.
The top one is an extreme example of thesaurus-core. This, admittedly, is a vice all writers must battle. When first learning, it’s tempting to ransack a thesaurus for the ornate words. Cramming them into sentences from either end until our writing is beyond epic. Until it’s sublime, Homeric, until…
Until a seasoned writer tells us it’s giving them syrup brain. Using fancy words leads to rambling sentences, bloated paragraphs, and writing that smothers its own creativity and meaning.
Writing for success
After a thought is chosen, an image settled upon, word choice is the driving force behind writing success.
What is writing success?
In copywriting, well-chosen words build lasting customer relationships and express the benefits of a product with such grace that sales soar. In prose, beautifully written sentences draw us into another world; one we’d rather not leave.
If readers struggle to understand or get put off by ill fitting words, the connection between writer and reader is lost. In copywriting, this means a potential customer becomes someone else’s customer, and in prose, a novel is snapped shut in favour of a better option.
If you’re a writer, you’ll know that it’s easier to explain economy than practice it. There are all sorts of writing rules and tips that swirl in our mind before tackling the blank page and it’s a fear of failure that causes us to overwrite–especially in the beginning. If I just flower up the description a bit, it’ll be clearer…
In the words of the Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison–
“When you first start writing-and I think it’s true for a lot of beginning writers-you’re scared to death that if you don’t get that sentence right that minute it’s never going to show up again. And it isn’t. But it doesn’t matter-another one will, and it’ll probably be better.”
Rather than neurotically rewriting over and over again, we must relax and return to it later. Or replace it when inspiration strikes. And whilst writing, we must also remember that ornate isn’t better.
Think about Hemingway. His style is simple and yet envied the world over. Why? Because it’s natural, unpretentious, and conveys imagery with a crisp precision.
So, don’t fret about vocabulary, just ask yourself, is this sentence saying what it needs to? If yes, keep writing. If not, no problem. Keep writing regardless, and if you let it, the rest will follow.
And, if it doesn’t, our copywriters are always on hand to help.