The philosophy of a rifle is ‘aim well’, the philosophy of a shotgun is ‘aim approximately well.’ We live in a culture that speaks shotgun and settles for approximate understanding.

This is a terrible way to write.


Moving Targets

Obviously, we need to fix this. SO as a remedy, I periodically engage in the following exercise:

1) Find something

I like candles, and there happens to be one flickering in front of me…so I’m picking that.

2) Write one descriptive sentence about it.

I see a red stained-glass candle flickering in front of me.

3) Rewrite your sentence in fewer words.

Peripheral sight catches a stained glass flame.

4) Repeat

I see glass imprisoned fire.

In the end, we went from a sentence with 12 words, to one with five. Spitting out the first sentence didn’t take much effort. Crafting a sentence where every words matters (and actually trying to use less than six words) proved to be more of a challenge.

Why This Is Hard

We live in a world that tends to devalue words. Buying in to this results in the need for more of them to pay for our understanding. This is the economy of language, and the inflation of words. We run into a problem when we want to describe the things that we genuinely care about; If our words are only sand and gravel we may find our tongue lacking the precision to form diamonds under pressure. While I consider myself to forever be a pupil in the class of brevity, I’ve found that poetry is an excellent playground for this.


Think About Breathing

The greatest tragedy is that the devaluing of our words devalues the time we took to breathe them into existence, and thus becomes a way in which we slowly take our lives for granted. Writing is typically more eloquent than speech simply because forming words carries with it a premium of thought and effort. While we could place more thought into every word we speak…we would drive ourselves crazy.


We could practice.
We could write more.
We could think less about quality, and more about consistency.
Because a consistent writer needs only to shape the loose sand and gravel words with the mortar of discipline.

Photo: Ray Bodden - (CC BY 2.0)

Photo: Ray Bodden – (CC BY 2.0)


Writing gets us thinking about what we say. With the practice of thinking before we speak on paper, the act of thinking before we speak out loud becomes natural. This restores value lost in the transactions of conversation.

Whether we are an accomplished novelist, blogger, or just trying to collect our thoughts and gain clarity on life: we must not be afraid to pick up the pen and engage the paper.