Your brain is keeping secrets from you – and that’s a good thing.
One of the tips I give student writers is to start with a list – to come up with a catalog of details about whatever the subject is and then to pare that list down to the most important details as we write and revise. I always start with more information than I am going to end up using is a mantra I offer.
Poetry is a natural genre for this practice of precise and concise writing – but any and all preconceived communication can benefit from editing. If I had to boil all my teaching into a single sentence I would say: it is the prioritization of information. That’s it in a nutshell – thank you good night, try the fish I’ll be here all week…
I’m a fan of brain science books; a couple of my favorites are Incognito by David Engleman and Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnman among others. Anyway somewhere along the way (most likely in one of the aforementioned books) I picked up the notion that one of our brains most important functions is deciphering meaning from the onslaught of continual data avalanching down on us from all directions. This along with the ability to learn patterns and sequences and then to internalize them into shorthand is what allows us to function in the world without being reduced to quivering mounds of protoplasm either too overwhelmed by stimuli or paralyzed by the uncountable number of steps necessary to open a jar of pickles.
Just use the important stuff.
So while details are important to good image driven writing – distilling those details to the strongest is what makes for potent communication. Get rid of the unnecessary. Reportedly after marveling at Michelangelo’s statue of Goliath-vanquishing David, the Pope asked the sculptor, “How do you know what to cut away?” Michelangelo’s reply? “It’s simple. I just remove everything that doesn’t look like David.”
Editing and revision are your friends.
There is such a thing as too much information (and I’m not talking about a Kim Kardashian video.) We do not want to overwhelm our readers or listeners minds into stasis.
But we need to have something to pare down so we have to start with a glut of information – notes – details – facts - descriptions and then winnow them down as we revise.
You can’t pick the best option without options. Easy as that.
Remember an overabundance can be as debilitating as lack. Let’s not infect our audience with David Lynch’s fictional malady, Bozeman's Simplex. Make sure your details deserve the space they are taking up on your page or in your talk.