December 17, 2012
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.