No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.
—Fake Ernest Hemingway (via Midnight in Paris)
Stephen King calls it “killing your darlings.” I call it cutting the crap.
Bottom line: There’s a lot of junk that gets in the way of good writing. And you have to kill it. Get rid of it. Totally annihilate it.
If you are going to write well, you must make your writing clean. You must get rid of the clutter.
There are two important actions you must take in order to do this.
Clean your workspace
Back when I was growing up, every summer my dad and I would undertake a major project. One year, we built a fence. Another, we dug a pond.
Before we would get to work, though, my dad would always ask me to complete one very simple, but necessary task: He’d ask me to clean the shed.
At the time, I hated it. I loathed pulling out all the tools, wiping the cobwebs out of the corners, and doing the mundane work of making sure we had everything we needed.
But now I understand what my dad was trying to teach me. Before you can get to work, you’ve got to get your tools in order. Same goes for your writing or any craft for that matter.
Before you can do the work of creating anything, you’ve got to clear off the desk and get your stuff in order. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but your mess isn’t helping you; it’s not contributing to the creative process. And you need to stop hiding behind it.
Get rid of non-essentials
I’m talking about the actual writing here. Erase all the lazy words and phrases, which fluff up your writing but add nothing to the content.
Kill ’em, kill ’em all.
These fancy turns of phrase and flowery pieces of prose are getting in the way. Distracting the reader from what you really want to say. And frankly, you don’t have time for them.
So let’s declutter today, shall we? In every sense of the word. I want you to do two things:
- Clean up your space. Spend some time (at least five minutes, but no more than 30) doing the following: clear off the desk, sharpen your pencils, put your files in order, take out the trash, wash the dishes, whatever. Do what you need to do to feel better about the place where you do your work.
- Cut your writing down to its purest essence. Turn a 500-word article into 250 words. If you’re brave, convert 1000 words into 300. Take away everything but exactly what you want to say. Eliminate weak, lazy words like “that” and “things” and anything you don’t absolutely need. Then say what you have to say and be done with it.