On words and silence

I’ve got rather practiced, this last week, at removing words from things. I submitted a couple of pieces of writing to the Pilgrim Hill Arts Festival, which had a maximum word count requirement of only 500 words per piece, meaning I needed to lose some 300 words from one piece, and almost 700 from another—and still keep the original integrity. And then I helped my husband cut down words from one of his university assignments to get it under the required word count.

Just. Of. That. Really.

You don’t realise when you write a first draft, the everything-goes-in, write-it-as-you-speak-it without a single care about numbers or saying things “right”, that half the words you use are really, really just…unnecessary!

It reminded me of my favourite joke from childhood…the man walking past the fish shop:

A man walking down the road stopped when he saw the fishmonger admiring his new sign outside his shop, saying “Fresh Fish Sold Here Today”.

“Why does the sign say ‘fresh’”, the man asked, “Would you be selling it if it wasn’t?”

“Good point,” said the fishmonger, as he grabbed a cloth and rubbed out the word ‘fresh’, then stepped back to look.

“Also, ‘Here’?” the man asked him. “Where else would you be selling the fish but in your shop?”

After thinking about this for a minute, the fishmonger said, “That makes perfect sense!” So he altered the sign again to read “Fish Sold Today.”

No sooner had he finished this the man spoke up again. “You really don’t need ‘Sold?’ either. You weren’t planning on giving it away!”

“Right again,” said the fishmonger, and crossed out ‘sold’.

The sign now read “Fish Today”, which puzzled both the man and the fishmonger. They stood staring at it for a moment, until the man said, “You don’t really need to say ‘today’, do you? I mean, you won’t be selling it yesterday…isn’t that bit obvious?”

“You’re right!” said the fishmonger, as he rubbed out the offending word, leaving one word on his sign: ‘Fish’. “Thank you so much for your help, sir. I’m so thankful you stopped by.”

“No problems at all”, the man smiled as he turned to leave. “Oh, and by the way, you don’t need to say ‘fish’, either. You can smell it a mile off!”

I loved this story as a child. It took me years, though, to realise how much I’d grown to resemble it. We cut out words all the time, and we think it justified, consider ourselves stronger, somehow, for our verbal leanness.

Somehow, slowly, I’d cut out unnecessary words from my communication, until all that was left was a silence filled with an expectation that other people knew what I was not saying.

I learned eventually one very powerful truth:

People don’t know what’s happening inside of you unless you tell them.

Speak up. It’s important that you do. Your words matter. All of them, even the little ones you’d deem unnecessary, they’re all part of the bigger story. Even just really. All of it matters.

If for no other reason than just because…