Dear Mr. –
It comes down to the meaning of ‘needless.’ Often a word can be removed without destroying the structure of a sentence, but that does not necessarily mean that the word is needless or that the sentence has gained by its removal.
If you were to put a narrow construction on the word ‘needless,’ you would have to remove tens of thousands of words from Shakespeare, who seldom said anything in six words that could be said in twenty. Writing is not an exercise in excision, it’s a journey into sound. How about ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’*? One tomorrow would suffice, but it’s the other two that have made the thing immortal.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your letter.
E. B. White
I just found this letter written by White to a reader of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style on Brainpickings.org, a wonderful resource.
I was lucky enough to meet E. B. White while I lived in the same town in coastal Maine thirty-six years ago. In those days I was in the throes of my first urges towards writing. I read White, Mumford, and Lapham; Flaubert, Lawrence, and Melville; along with an ill-fated attempt, in a slog of hay-fever addled fading willpower, to get through Hegel.
There was one thing I knew then that I still know now. White is a writer I hold in the highest esteem. It meant a lot to me to meet him, to talk to him; though having a young, self-obsessed, hypochondriac meet an elderly, and famous, hypochondriac had its tensions.
White is thought to be the champion of a pared down, lean prose. It’s good to see him laying out, in spare, lean prose, his appreciation for writing as a “journey into sound.”
This has been a driving force behind my writing. To capture a flow of sound in a rhythm to carry the complexity of meaning and to coax readers into slowing down so they may experience this journey in all its fullness.