Stripped-Down Writing: Make Every Word Count

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

That quote hangs above my desk as a daily reminder that the point of writing is to get to the point. Particularly for the travel PR writer whose goal is to grab an editor’s interest. And particularly in this digital age of abbreviated attention spans and 140-character limits.

Ditch meaningless adjectives.

Take a critical eye to every descriptive word you use. In the world of travel and hospitality PR, it can be tempting to go on about “spectacular” architecture, “sumptuous” dining and “breathtaking” views — and you can count me among the guilty. But in addition to rarely being accurate, those superlatives are a lazy crutch for the writer and the literary equivalent of glitter — all sparkle, no value. Leave them out.

Think bite-sized portions.

Large blocks of writing are visually intimidating and require a commitment from the reader. Providing information in nuggets that an overworked, multitasking editor can quickly scan will greatly increase the chances that he or she will consider your story. Keep sentences short and paragraphs brief — white space gives the eye a place to rest. Top each paragraph with an attention-grabbing subhead. Present your points — the main features of a hotel renovation, for instance, or the components of a family getaway package — in easy-to-digest, bulleted lists. A few well-placed, eye-catching visuals help, too.

Write in the active voice.

“Mistakes were made.” The passive voice might be a strategic choice for public figures making non- apologies, because it points the blame nowhere, but it also gives no one credit. You want people to know your client makes things happen. “The hotel’s green policy was introduced to attract eco-conscious Millennials.” Or, better, “The hotel launched a new green policy to attract eco-conscious Millennials.” Using the passive voice also kills the forward momentum of your writing. It’s the sedative to the active voice’s stimulant. Choose the active voice.

Back to Saint-Exupéry. You can find the quote above in many online collections of inspirational and motivational sayings. But I first came across it reading the writer/aviator’s autobiographical work, Wind, Sand and Stars, which is one of my all-time favorite books. I think it’s worth reading the quote in its original context, and will leave you with a bit more of that here:

Have you ever thought, not only about the airplane but about whatever man builds, that all of man’s industrial efforts, all of his computations and calculations, all the nights spent over working draughts and blueprints, invariably culminate in the production of a thing whose sole and guiding principle is the ultimate principle of simplicity?

[…] In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.