“Omit Needless Wants”

January 24, 2024

“Omit Needless Wants”

May 29, 2023

The number one message of “The Elements of Style,” often considered the writers' bible, is succinct: “Omit needless words.” William Strunk, the author of this book, explains:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

The lovely phrase, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter,” is first attributed to mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal nearly 400 years ago. As I regularly write this blog, I sometimes imagine what I would say if I only had a postcard to express myself. 

Whether you’re a writer or not, by midlife, we’ve accumulated quite a bit, and it’s time for us to become ruthless editors of our lives. I rather like the idea of “Omit Needless Wants.” As Rabbi Hyman Schachtel wrote a half-century ago, "Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have." By midlife, we’ve hopefully become wise enough to realize that an unsatisfied want is not masquerading as a foundational need. Instead, we should view it as a time to clear out those wants that have been merely renting space in our minds, distracting us from appreciating the gifts we already possess.

-Chip

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