Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Writing Without the Letter "E"

I once had a great swim coach named Doug Stern. Doug was an aquatic innovator who liked to use the principles of “reduction” to help us get a feel for the water. While most coaches encourage their swimmers to use hand paddles, pull buoys, elastic bands and weight training, Doug had us swim with tennis balls in our hands. Then we tried to swim a few laps with our eyes closed. Then we swam a few laps with our hands in the karate chop position and finally with our hands balled into a fist. Finally with our eyes open, we’d start swimming with our normal motion and guess what? Our hands felt like enormous paddles. It seemed we had incredible sensation in each finger with three times the power of before.

“Notice what you notice!” Doug would always roar above the thrashing in the pool. It seemed like we were swimming downhill as we sliced confidently through the water using muscles and senses we never knew we had.

Make the writing process less painful

Sometimes you have to do without certain crutches or senses to understand what you’re truly capable of. Let’s take writing. Some of you love the process, many of you hate it. But, like paying taxes and getting “the pipe” exam once you turn 50, we all have to do it. Whether you’re communicating with clients, churning out a blog post, penning a short article or muscling through an e-book, we all know we tend to get lazy. We could be more precise when we put pen to paper, but it’s too easy to fall back on our tried and true sayings, or our small arsenal of adjectives and famous quotes.

My 6th grader was staying up way too late the other night on the verge of tears over a writing assignment. Turns out he had to write a 500-word story based on the picture below. The only catch? He couldn’t use the letter “E.” He was stuck at 411 and fading fast. How hard can that be, I thought to myself. I smith words all day long. I love baseball. I don’t get writer’s block.

Turns out pretty hard.
Sure there are 25 other letters to choose from, but without “e”—the most common letter in the English language--you can’t use “the.” That means can’t use often vague pronouns such as "he," "she," "they,” “me”, “her” and “them.” You also lose out on common functional words such as “when”, “where”, “these”, “those” and “every.” You not only have to flex your vocabulary muscles, but you must be painfully more precise.

Try going a day without using the letter “e” in any of your an e-mails or client communications. Can’t be done, you say? Well, you should read
Gadsby, the 1939 novel by American author Ernest Vincent Wright—50,000 words without “e.” Click here for more on e-less writing.

As my colleague, Mark Klimek points out, writing without your favorite words and letters "is a maddening exercise in many ways, but it’s also a good reminder of the importance of really thinking through what you want your communication strategy to convey.”


Notice what you notice about yourself and the reaction to your written communications when you take away your language crutches and force yourself to be more precise. Once you have your “e” privileges back, it will be like getting a double dose of creativity. Chances are you’ll glide through your next project in a more streamlined and confident fashion.

blog has more, as does the FREE Resources page of our website.


TAGS: Writing without using “E”, Gadsby, Ernest Vincent Wright

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