My wife is helping a friend declutter her office today. This morning I was being helpful, insomuch as I was held incommunicado but within hailing distance ready to be called upon to advise on technical matters. These amounted to, “What’s this cable for?” “Is this software out of date?” and, “Could you take these full rubbish bags downstairs now please?”
Understanding that any of my suggestions on the really serious stuff would probably be vetoed, and forced into voluntary exile with the papers and coffee, I got to thinking about clutter and the written word.
Ghost writing sometimes involves taking someone’s precious words and re-crafting them. This is when serious culling is performed, more often than not as a result of zealous overwriting. In some cases, too many words are used when few will suffice, superlatives are done to death, adjectives are empty and hollow, and concepts meander around biting their own bums.
When Twitter evolved, the 140 character limit was either going to hone users’ writing skills, or severely limit their ability to communicate effectively. Sadly, the result is little of the former and much of the latter. Agreed, it’s difficult to write concisely, however most people fail even to make the effort.
One of the most diabolical Twitter users, and one of the few that I always read, is John Birmingham, writer, journo, and complete idiot. He is extremely funny, highly intelligent, and pulls no punches. Birmingham uses Twitter’s limited word form to communicate exactly how he feels in the moment, no matter how preposterous that moment may be.
Mr Birmingham may have the rare skill of being able to edit his words on the fly, but most of us, mere mortals, have extreme difficulty viewing our own work with clinical objectivity. I have to admit that I’ve been reduced to near tears, well, panic attacks and near death experiences anyway, at the editing of certain clever though irrelevant sentences from my work.
We’re so precious about what we have written, even when we readily admit that we need editing. Perhaps ghost writers are akin to surgeons. Instead of being tortuously led by the nose by an editor through reconstructions, and suffering word loss grief, the client can opt for voluntary anaesthesia, in whatever form, while the ghost takes the work into the operating room and cuts the crap out of it.
I have an editor. I’m not telling you who that is, but be assured that I am so fearful of her green pen that I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure my words are the best I can produce before she sees them.
Talking of ghosts, it’s eerily quiet in that office. I wonder how the ladies are doing.