word craft


What you leave out

Letter CA writer friend recent­ly sent me an e‑mail. “What are you doing?”

I said, “Push­ing the alpha­bet keys. You?”

She replied, “Work­ing the delete key!”

I sus­pect that the most impor­tant aspect of writ­ing is what’s not on the page. The white space. What you take out. Leave out. Cut. An edi­tor once told me it’s much bet­ter to over- write, than under-write. Bet­ter to cut than to add, so you have only what is nec­es­sary. I once heard a lec­ture by Don­ald Hall, poet, pic­ture book writer, a for­mer US poet-lau­re­ate.  If I remem­ber his words cor­rect­ly, he said, “The good writer tries to cre­ate the per­fect O.  But he leaves a gap, so that it’s like the let­ter C. If that gap is too large, your read­er can­not fill it. If it’s too small, there is no rea­son for the read­er to fill it. But if it is just right, your read­er fills it with his/her own expe­ri­ence and the cir­cle is complete.”

Want to study writ­ing? Take three courses.

1. A jour­nal­ism course will teach you what to put in. 

2. A poet­ry course will teach you what to take out.

3. A voice class will teach you to hear if your words sing.

3 thoughts on “What you leave out”

  1. I love the sug­ges­tion of tak­ing the three dif­fer­ent kinds of cours­es to learn writ­ing. Espe­cial­ly now, when so many writ­ers are encour­aged or desire to blog. Is a blog just an online diary or is it a form of jour­nal­ism? Just sam­pling a few dif­fer­ent blogs will show what a wide range of styles there are. I appre­ci­ate how focused and suc­cinct your posts are–always enjoy read­ing them, even if I don’t comment.

  2. I enjoyed this post as well. I just received some edits from a friend–tough edits (that will make a bet­ter book), so I’m find­ing myself star­ing at things on my desk. I think one more day of let­ting his com­ments fil­ter through my brain, then the fix­es that are col­lect­ing in my head will start to make it onto the screen. Until then it’s nice to read use­ful blog posts such as this. I love to read poet­ry so your #2 res­onat­ed with me. I think a scene has to cap­ture a mood in a way that a poet does in a poem. At some point I read a poet who said a poem was cap­tur­ing how one per­son feels (or what it’s like to be them) at one par­tic­u­lar moment on earth. Or Bil­ly Collins says it’s try­ing to cap­ture a feel­ing there isn’t a word for in the dic­tio­nary. Isn’t that what a good scene does?


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: