Three ways our infatuation with seventeenth pages can improve your writing.

ecclesiastes

We are Page 17, Inc.

Huzzah for us, right?

If you already know why we chose that name for our company, sorry for the forthcoming rehash. If you don’t, indulge us a paragraph of illumination.

The seventeenth page of our founder’s high school writing text, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White,  includes the sagest three words of writing advice ever typeset: “Omit needless words.”

For no particular reason, that backstory recently got us thinking: What Easter eggs might be found on the seventeenth pages of other favorite books on writing?

Here’s what we learned on the seventeenth pages of our Zinsser, our Thomas and Turner, and one paragraph earlier of our Strunk and White:

  1. You suck at writing and so do we. We paraphrase, of course, but the seventeenth page of On Writing Well by William Zinsser isn’t much less harsh: “Few people realize how badly they write. Nobody has shown them how much excess or murkiness has crept into their style and how it obstructs what they are trying to say. If you give me an eight-page article and I tell you to cut it to four pages, you’ll howl and say it can’t be done. Then you’ll go home and do it, and it will be much better.” You might want to hit the delete key a few more times this week. We will, too.
     
  2. Simple ain’t easy. On the seventeenth page of Clear and Simple as the Truth, Francis-Noel Thomas and Mark Turner lend support to Zinsser’s seventeenth page by confirming that “elementary does not always mean easy.” For you and me, that means we need to reread the rewrite of that important email we’re about to send—even if we feel it “wrote itself.”
     
  3. George Orwell nailed it. Earlier on page seventeen of our Strunk and White, the authors share Orwell’s sarcastic revision of a famous passage from the Bible. His intentionally overwrought version: “Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must inevitably be taken into account.” The actual passage may be archaic, but it clearly avoids the corporate-speak Orwell was mocking: “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” How many of our blog posts and new business proposals would make Orwell, Thomas, Turner, Zinsser, Strunk, White—and our intended readers—similarly cringe?

Better writing will increase your influence. Let us know how we can help.