Friday, December 15, 2017

How a Detox Cleanse Helped My Writing

My wife and I recently went on a cleanse. It consisted of two weeks of greens, very few carbs, no red meat, a mind-spinning number of salads, plenty of fish, no dairy, tons of water, and no alcohol or caffeine (which we cheated on a bit). We tolerated broccoli for breakfast and endured absolutely no chocolate. But we made it. 

For me, the first few days induced a carb-crash. I was irritable, tired to the point of being weak, and even dizzy. I missed toast with my coffee. I missed my occasional scone. I missed my sandwich with thick bread for lunch. But I got over it. After 4-5 days in,  it was a breeze. Energy was back and even renewed. When I struggled, Leslie shined and was incredibly supportive, making nearly all the meals and preparing my food for away-from-home lunches. Now, a week after the cleanse, we are accepting and embracing a new way of eating. It wasn't as if we were daily burger eaters, fast-food junkies, or Twinkies addicts. But this new commitment to eating leaner and simpler foods, and focusing far more on whole foods rather than processed, is a distinctly new discipline for eating, especially for me. 

So what's this have to do with writing?

As I was chewing on another Brussels sprout, (which I love, by the way) I also considered how the choice of what we put in our bodies is much the same as the many choices we make when writing. We all know that certain words are better than others, a major factor in good prose. "Processed" words—that is to say words that are overused, pretentious, or pompous, words with too many junky "carbs"—are bad. Look for lean, simple words, "whole" words that are distinctive and clean. Don't over-garnish your meals or your writing. Too much sugar makes for an over-sentimentalized story. Too much "salt" leads to water retention and bloated prose. As writers, when we overdo "red meat," it can lead to "clogged arteries" and the story (our blood) struggles to flow with any ease through our vessels. Our hearts—and the hearts of our stories—suffer.

Go on a writing cleanse. Rid your writing of excess, waste and empty energy. You'll not only feel better, your writing will be better, too.


  1. There's an old journalists' adage: never use a long word when s short one will do. It's the start of sparse writing. But really sparse writing needs clear thought and short sentences. Package one idea or one piece of information in each sentence - then deliver it to the reader. And always prefer the active rather than passive voice - unless there's a specific reason for choosing the passive.

    1. Coming from a trained journalist -- right on! I am re-reading Camus' THE STRANGER and I am struck by the simplicity of the writing. It is powerful.

  2. Excellent advice, David! Looking forward to the new book.

  3. I had someone work for me once who regularly asked "how do I say this?" (his meaning was to make his statement more "literary." My answer was always the same.."say it just like you said it to me." Simple, clean, without harmful adjectives. Looking forward to more posts, David.

  4. Jack Kerouac wrote, "Someday I will find the right words, and they will be simple."

  5. Great analogy David! Keep up the good words! And all the best for 2018.

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