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once more, with feeling

December 17, 2012

fransiweinstein

Okay. This is the third, and final, post I wrote for my other blog, 365, I’m re-posting here. This time I’m not going to apologize to anyone who may have read it ‘over there’. Because if you’re a writer, or an aspiring writer, this is one message you cannot hear too often. In fact, it should be burned into your brain. It’s definitely burned into mine. Thanks for reading my blogs. It’s much appreciated. Hope to see you here again.

Pete Armetta has a WordPress blog I very much enjoy. He’s a powerful writer of poetry, flash fiction, essays and short stories; and I’m always struck by how few words he needs, to say so much. Which, incidentally, is much easier said than done. His ‘style’ brings to mind a favourite Mark Twain quote:

“I am sorry to have written such a long letter, but I did not have time to write a short one”.

Says it all. Because the true measure of a writer is the ability to self-edit. To be ruthless. Brutal. To choose words carefully. To make every one work hard. And having talent is the least of it. It takes discipline. Love of the craft. The ability to let go. To love ‘em, but leave ‘em, on the cutting room floor. To know when you’re done.

So really, a writer’s best friend isn’t a computer. Or a dictionary. Or a thesaurus. It’s the eraser.

Luckily, I learned that very early in my career. It was hard. And painful. But the best thing that could ever have happened to a young writer, just starting out. Which is why I wrote a blog post about it.

When I commented on Pete’s poem, and how much I admire his ability to keep only what’s absolutely essential, he responded, simply: “Less is best, I think.” Again, says it all.

And it’s a philosophy that’s not restricted to writers. It’s one reason why I love Italian design. What Giorgio Armani has always done best, is to allow exquisite fabrics and flawless tailoring take centre stage. Italian cars and furniture, same thing. It’s about simplicity. Beautiful design. Perfection. Less is best.

Embellishments are not necessary, because they have no flaws or imperfections to hide.

It’s what I love about Apple. The computers themselves. The web browser, Safari. And the stores. Oh, how I love the stores. But really, everything they do all looks alike. Lots of white space. Everything in its place. A logical place. Easy to find. Easy to use. Efficient. Nice to look at. Sleek. Clean. Unencumbered. No gimmicks. So contemporary. Only what’s necessary. Again, simple and beautifully designed. Highly functional.

Less is best.

There are people who speak that way. I could listen to them for hours. Well organized thoughts. Succinct. Articulate. Focussed. No hesitation. No pausing. No grasping for words. No hemming or hawing. Never repetitive. Smooth transitions from one sentence to the next. No convoluted sentences. The complete opposite of verbose. Short, sweet and to the point. Yet warm. Engaging. Informative. And interesting. They’ve got my attention, that’s for damn sure!

I’m writing a book. My first. Very early on I decided it should come in at between 70 and 80,000 words. I’d read something, somewhere. As each chapter was completed, I’d frantically check my word count. And I’d go back and add more. And more. And more.

Until it was so filled with gratuitous nonsense, the story was lost. It had become incomprehensible. Then I remembered that lesson I’d learned years ago. And how “Tuesdays with Morrie”, one of the most successful books of all time, had less than 200 pages. My book has to be as long as it has to be, to tell the story. Not one word longer. The number of words isn’t the point. And that’s when I went back and started slashing. And slashing. And slashing.

Less is best.

I’m done.

68 Comments

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  1. December 17, 2012

    Less is better. Advice from Elmore Leonard – “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” Powerfully good. And even now, I think of his words…

    • fransiweinstein #
      December 17, 2012

      Great quote! And so true. Thanks. I’m going to save that one.

      • December 17, 2012

        Do. It’s always in the forefront of my mind as I write as well as revise. I sift away so much.

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 17, 2012

        Me too

  2. December 17, 2012

    Yes, this is a good reminder for all writers, and is probably difficult because we all love words so darn much!

    • fransiweinstein #
      December 17, 2012

      Exactly! We hate to part with them. But we must. Keep a copy in your bottom drawer so you can go back and fondle it, but edit, edit, edit the daylights out of it. And when you go back and compare them, the tighter one is always better. Always.

  3. December 17, 2012

    as a first time writer, I must remember this. Thanks

    • fransiweinstein #
      December 17, 2012

      Honestly, it’s one of the best lessons I ever learned.

  4. December 17, 2012

    Well, there’s almost nothing more satisfying than taking something that started big when you wrote it (because that’s how it was meant to be written) and shaving it down to a “servable” portion. :) Thanks for the mention, it is quite a challenge to get something to where it’s supposed to be no doubt. Ruthless is right! I’m not sure if it’s a question of craft or because I don’t want to hear my own voice anymore.  HAH. 

    CONGRATS on your book that’s a lot of words and sounds like a real challenge and is quite the accomplishment. 

    I think in our busy times where we have so many choices and everything is so cluttered we collectively really need to get to the point. Less is best is as you’ve said before on another subject a “motto”.  I think your writing does stands up to that, you’re very readable. And I don’t say that to just anyone. 

    ________________________________

    • fransiweinstein #
      December 17, 2012

      Thank you. And just looking at what you do, i know your standards are high, so your ‘nod’ means a lot. I work at it. And I know you do, too. It’s the only way. I see it in everything you write, regardless of the genre. Don’t know about you, but for me it is a real process of going over it again and again. The book’s not done yet. It’s evolving.

      • December 18, 2012

        I’ve often thought that I write for idiots. Meaning that something has to be as readable as it can possibly be so that anyone anywhere at anytime could pick it up and read through it. Or that I write for four year olds however one wants to look at it. Maybe because I look at myself as an idiot four year old, it has to be kept as simple as possible for me to get the most out of it. :) And yes that really means word by word and phrase by phrase. How people like you do longer works I’ll never know, I really admire it.

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 18, 2012

        Yeah. When content, regardless of what it is, is dense nobody wants to read it. Your work has to be readable. Short sentences are easier to read than being forced to plow through long, convoluted ones. Not necessarily what I make a ‘sentence’. That’s a stylistic thing. But you know what I mean. You have the talent and the words to write a book. Maybe your issue is, you’d get bored having to keep a ‘long’ story going. I’d love to see what you’d do with some longer stories. See what would happen. Doesn’t interest you, does it?

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 18, 2012

        This applies to the way the words and sentences and paragraphs look on the page, too. I am all for good leading and small paragraphs. Lots of white space. Lots of breathing room. Make it easy to read. Enticing.

      • December 18, 2012

        Oh yeh I love white space and breaks etc no doubt.

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 18, 2012

        It makes a huge difference.

      • December 18, 2012

        I have comfort zones, you know. My longest story is around 3000 words. I have lots between 1000-3000. I don’t think I have an interest right now in anything much longer as my own attention span seems too short haha Maybe that’ll change some day. I’m just such a short story fan and always have been. I’m never been much of a novel fan although of course I’ve read them. For my own writing I picture more of a collection of stories a la Raymond Carver than a long book but maybe someday. And I’m so guilty of long and overly fanciful sentences I can’t help myself! :) Showing off (to myself!)

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 18, 2012

        Oh, I get it. And you’re great at it! And it’s much, much more difficult to do. Remember I mentioned that blog Magnificent Nose to you? He asked me to write a piece of flash fiction for his blog a few months ago. I said I would, just to challenge myself. But I was quaking. Because to write a story that hangs together, that has a beginning, a middle and an end, in 500 words (which was his brief), and has 3 characters in it … that is tough. At least for me. You make it look like a piece of cake. I’m really glad I did it. I may try again, I may not. Beginner’s luck might not visit me a second time :) Love the Raymond Carver idea. Just saying :)

      • December 18, 2012

        Where’s the link to your story? :)

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 18, 2012

        Which story?

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 18, 2012

        Here’s the link.
        http://magnificentnose.com/author/fransiweinstein/

    • December 18, 2012

      On Magnificent Nose?

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 18, 2012

        It’s a silly story. He gave us a theme. ‘the end of communication’. 3 characters. 500 words. I am sure it’s on his blog. I will find it on there. Or I will email it to you at your yahoo email.

  5. December 18, 2012

    Well said! I’m in the “less is best” camp too. I find it
    has its drawbacks. It slows my writing down since part of my brain
    is usually three paragraphs behind editing.

    • fransiweinstein #
      December 18, 2012

      Get it all down first. Then edit.

  6. December 18, 2012

    I think of it as going into RE, after writing most of it, you review and reduce, and then you might find spaces to refill.

    • fransiweinstein #
      December 18, 2012

      exactly.

  7. Allison Boroda #
    December 18, 2012

    Thank you for visiting my blog. It prompted me to come check out yours and read this wise advice!

  8. December 25, 2012

    I concur. Couldn’t have said it any better., Pete is a
    greeat writer.

    • fransiweinstein #
      December 25, 2012

      Thank you. Or maybe he should thank you? :). Seriously, though, he is.

  9. December 28, 2012

    Exactly why I am gritting my teeth over having to write a 25 page research paper, simply for the sake of it having to be 25-30 pages…when I can quite clearly get my point across in 7-10 pages – maybe 12-15 ;) . Thank you for sharing this! “Until it was so filled with gratuitous nonsense, the story was lost. It had become incomprehensible.” Well, that’s what the professor wants…that’s what the professor gets :D
    ~Lyann
    http://blscapstoneproject.wordpress.com/the-research-paper/

    • fransiweinstein #
      December 28, 2012

      I feel your pain. Very foolish professor. You’d think he’d know better. Quantity doesn’t always mean quality. Good luck with it!

  10. December 31, 2012

    Great advice for all writers.
    I have been trying to guilt myself to head towards the writing table and finish the unfinished stories.
    I completely agree with you, editing is always the key. But, from experience, I would add that edit only once you are complete with the story. Because in the past I have been guilty of editing as I write and that just goes no where. All I get is hours of work on one single chapter which seems like a short story in itself.
    But you are right, it is our love for the words which makes it difficult to be ruthless and chop them down.
    Thank you for the inspiration and for stopping by. :)

    • fransiweinstein #
      December 31, 2012

      Thank you! When it comes to ‘when’ is the right time to edit, I truly believe it’s a personal choice. I can’t go on until I’m happy. So every now and then I must stop, review and polish. It is unusual, I know, but it works for me. When I stop for the night, the next day I always must review what I’ve already done. And I always refine it. And then I can happily move on. Most writers I’ve worked with are like you. I used to drive them insane, just as they drove me insane. As long as the end product is a thing of beauty, it doesn’t matter how you got there. The journey is different for all of us. Thank you for stopping by, and taking the time to share your thoughts. All the best for 2013. Have a happy, healthy, fabulous New Year!

      • December 31, 2012

        I couldn’t agree more.
        One has to keep eyes set on the end product.
        I have been editing as I write and the problem is I end up with unfinished stories because while I edit one another starts taking shape in my head and I have to get it on paper before it escapes.
        Perhaps that is just me but there is no better high than going over a piece of work and just knowing it is the best you can do with it. :)
        All the best for 2013 as well.
        May the new year bring new stories and fabulous reviews for your book. :)

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 31, 2012

        Thanks! Book’s not finished yet. One of my goals for. 2013 :)

      • December 31, 2012

        Oh it will be done before you know it.

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 31, 2012

        I may ask you to remind me one day, when I’m feeling frustrated :)

      • December 31, 2012

        Sure, some of us do derive sadistic pleasure from pushing others to work.
        Guilty! :P

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 31, 2012

        Me too :).

      • December 31, 2012

        Great, then here is the deal you nag me and I’ll nag you till both of us are done with our respective works.

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 31, 2012

        Sounds like a plan. Nagging in 2013!

      • December 31, 2012

        See, now that there is a resolution we shouldn’t have trouble following.
        I wonder if the publishers permit us to thank the naggers like we do the editors :P

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 31, 2012

        Sure. You can thank anyone you want!

      • December 31, 2012

        Great… then if I do get my name on print my naggers get an honorable mention :P

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 31, 2012

        I shall look forward to it; and vice versa. And now I am off to bed. Late night tomorrow. Need my beauty rest:)

      • December 31, 2012

        Rest well
        your day ends while mine just begins
        aah the magic of time difference

      • fransiweinstein #
        December 31, 2012

        Something I am very familiar with. I spent a month in India a few years ago. I loved every minute. Delhi was my first stop. Stayed at the Imperial Hotel which was nothing short of spectacular. Spent New Year’s Eve in Samode, at the Samode Palace Hotel. It was magical. And every day got better and better. A conversation for another time. Have a great day!

      • December 31, 2012

        Glad you had a good time here :)

  11. February 10, 2013

    Excellent advice and absolutely true. On the whole. :)

    In my poetry, the shorter the better. Piku is my favourite form to write – 8 syllables!

    In my blog, however, the more rambling, the better. A stream-of-consciousness effect is useful when writing humour. But I tend not to do flowery, showy writing, which is what I think you are talking about.

    Then again, I’m also a massive fan of one-liners.

    • fransiweinstein #
      February 10, 2013

      Thanks. Obe form of writing I have never tried is poetry. Love it, but I don’t think I can write it.

      • February 10, 2013

        Each to his own. I don’t do fiction (unless you count the stories I tell about my husband). :D

      • fransiweinstein #
        February 10, 2013

        Does he know? :)

      • February 10, 2013

        Yes. But he knows my readers all feel sorry for him, being married to me, so he doesn’t mind :)

      • fransiweinstein #
        February 10, 2013

        Come on now, no low self esteem allowed :)

      • February 10, 2013

        I swear, that’s not my problem at all! I make endless fun of him; that’s why my readers started a Save The Hub club :)

      • fransiweinstein #
        February 10, 2013

        Ok

  12. May 17, 2013

    I love this. Thank you! My mother taught me this long ago about writing, to be a ruthless editor, and with each word or phrase, to ask myself “Is this word really necessary? Is this the best way to say this, with the fewest words?” I strive to do that still.

    • fransiweinstein #
      May 17, 2013

      Thank you! You’re a wonderful writer. I love your blog, what you say and how you say it.

  13. May 20, 2013

    best of luck with your book project, and the reason i love the art of haiku, as well as children’s books, is because one has to tell a story using very few words. the meaning is distilled down to it’s finest form. i look forward to reading more of your words and thanks for reading mine. best, beth

    • fransiweinstein #
      May 20, 2013

      Thanks so much!

  14. May 31, 2013

    I suppose that is why most of my writing ends up in the form of Haiku.
    Usually I start out with many words and then I slowly condense the thoughts they hold….into 17 syllables. An enjoyable challenge!

    • fransiweinstein #
      May 31, 2013

      Very interesting. I get it! I enjoy that process as well. Although what I’m doing is not nearly as much of a challenge as what you’re doing.

  15. June 17, 2013

    I suppose you have to be a conscious writer to excel. :-)

    • fransiweinstein #
      June 17, 2013

      Never looked at it that way before, but I think you are right. Good writing is as much about crafting as it is about creating. So yes, you do need to be a ‘conscious’ writer. Disciplined. And ruthless about editing your work.

  16. June 19, 2013

    That’s probably why the hardest part of editing (and the art that takes longest to learn) is the cutting! Great reminder, thanks! :)

    • fransiweinstein #
      June 19, 2013

      Welcome :)

  17. July 2, 2013

    Agree, less is better …

    • fransiweinstein #
      July 2, 2013

      Thanks :)

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