Welcome the fifth article by my guest blogger, Tony Cappasso. He is the author of a self-published travel narrative, America’s Highway: A Journal of Discovery Along US Route.
WATCH FOR MOOSE ON HIGHWAY
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word pith as meaning the “essential part,” or the “substantial quality, as of meaning.” In simpler words, it means the nub of the thing.
The words from the highway sign are a case in point. What could be closer to the “essential part,” than that warning? If you are driving a car on the highway, watch out for large ungulates wandering into the path of your vehicle.
As a newspaper reporter, pith was very important to me. There was always more to be said on a subject than there was space available in which to say it. Old reporter joke: I meant to write short but there wasn’t time.
Pith could be difficult to come by. Finding just the right word required a level of thoughtfulness not always possible in the hurried environment of a daily newspaper.
Writing a book, on the other hand, should have allowed plenty of time for pith. Alas, my urge to be descriptive, to paint a picture for my reader, sometimes overwhelmed my admiration for brevity. The members of my writing group (among whom was numbered the creator of this blog) were ruthless in their pruning of my written excesses.
Another hoary newspaper adage: “Everyone needs an editor,” was proven again and again in my case. Descriptive passages that seemed admirably brief to me struck others as wordy.
“Try reading what you’ve written aloud to yourself,” an editor once suggested. Good advice that I followed, even though it produced some strange looks from my fellow reporters.
I’ve discovered new computer software that allows me to hear the printed page spoken aloud. Sometimes it makes me cringe, but when I hear how wordy my writing is, it encourages me to search carefully for just that right combination of words to get my point across.
And that brings me back to that road sign. I took a picture of one of those signs on my Route 1 trip. I saved it as one of my screen savers. It reminds me to keep an eye peeled for purple prose. And those damn moose on the road, too.
Do you have trouble keeping your writing short, sweet, and pithy? What are some tricks that you use to help you from overwriting?
To read Tony’s other posts, click on the following links: