U=University (Feb 22)

. . . and a lesson on more or less

Is less more? Or is more more? // Getty Images

Part of learning is unlearning. As lessons confront experience, and experience increases ability, lessons must adapt or they will hold us back. This is the “exnovation” that clears the ground for “innovation”.

When I was in journalism school, learning how to write for newspapers, our instructors preached the lessons of simplicity. The mantra was «less is more». Cut excess words. Pare it down.

This was sound advice.

But not for everyone.

A few of my classmates wrote with wit and verve. Why should they do less when they were capable of more? They were already at a later stage of development, why fetter them?

It’s a numbers game. Schools taught «less is more» partly because everyone can achieve less — it leaves no student behind. If you taught «more is more», 90% of the students would successfully learn neither a craft nor an art. «Less is more» is utilitarian.

But less and more can work together. If you go to Barcelona, visit the Picasso Museum. You will see many of his earliest works, which show that even as an adolescent he was a skilled draughtsman. These technical sketches are not the sort of wild art we normally associate with Picasso. Only after having learned the rules did he move beyond them, and do more.

This series of 26 lessons on writing is meant to instill, in people for whom writing is a challenge, both the craft and the art — the technical and the aspirational, the less and the more, the base camp and the summit. Use the one to ascend the other.

LEARN:  Take in One True Thing, the novel by Anna Quindlen, and later film with Meryl Streep, in which tension between «less is more» and «more is more» is the central theme.

USE: As a «less is more» lesson, recast this lesson in exactly 50 words.


Published by robanderik

We are long-time writers and editors, now living in the Middle East. Our idea is to create a series of tips to help others improve their writing and editing skills. Think of it as a lesson plan for ESL learners that combines the practical with the aspirational.

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