Friday, June 11, 2010

Writers, Cut the Crap.

I recently cut a bunch o'inches off of my hair, which is really not a big deal, I do it every time my hair gets long, but I am realizing that it was the beginning of a trend.  I get in these phases where I want to simplify, purge, cut out what is unnecessary, declutter.  Know what I mean?  I haven't had a lot of time to really get to it, but with school ending this coming week, I see some glorious weeding out in my future.  I already have 4 donation bags ready to go to the Lupus Foundation, and by the time they come for their scheduled pickup on the 17th, I hope to have more.... although that is the day before school ends... and I do have report cards to do this week, so... we shall see.  But I digress.

Smart writerly people, when they give advice, often say to write with as few words as possible, use only the words you need, say things as simply and cleanly as you can.  In other words, stop cluttering up your writing with unnecessary blah, blah, blah, and get on with the meat of what is happening.

Dangerous as I am, I kinda hate it when I get writerly advice.  There.  I admitted it.  Honestly, part of me always asks (silently) if specific great writers had that many people telling them how to do their work.  Now... before you go wondering who I think I am to buck all of the people who actually know what they are doing, let me say that I am well aware of my naivete` (which is sort of an oxymoron, I suppose).  Here's the thing.  I am a completely novice writer, and I write because I love it, and I know that I still write for me.  Wise, published writerly types always say that good writers need to grow out of the stage of writing for themselves and learn to write for their audience.  Well, since I don't have an audience, per se, I still write for me.  I do know that, in time, I will grow into a more professional attitude (I hope.  I guess.  Maybe?) when I actually start having people read my writing and make suggestions and tear it to pieces.  But I think I need to go through that firsthand to have that epiphany.  At least I know it's coming.  Maybe foresight will at least soften the blow. ;)

Anyway, I have gotten off on a tangent, which is funny, because my whole point was about using only the words you need.  So as I said, I typically roll my eyes at Writers Who Tell Me How To Write (and I will relish doing so until said epiphany beats me into submission).  Here's where I was going before I derailed myself:

Last week, the Brownie troop that holds its meetings after school in my classroom had their last meeting of the year.  They are lovely, and they gave me a card and a huge, delicious bag of chocolate to thank me for letting them use my room.  Feast your eyes:

I am a chocolate lover, so this gift was insane to me... 50 squares of chocolatey, caramelly goodness!  Ohhh, the love.  I left school, got in the car, put the bag of chocolates on the passenger seat.  It begged to be opened on the way home, so at a red light, I indulged its very demanding whims, opened it, and drew out a perfect, foil-wrapped square of 60% cacao dark chocolate with a caramel center.  I turned it over to open it, and was struck by the words on the seam of the wrapping, which read, "Lift and pull to open".

Lift and pull to open.

Really?  Do I really need printed directions to remove the foil from a square of chocolate?  Without them, would I have sat in my car, dastardly foil wrapping blocking the chocolatey goodness from reaching my mouth, unsure how to overcome this horrendous obstacle?

Then I got to thinking about all of the ads everywhere around us, the "caution, contents hot" warnings on coffee cups, all the junk mail waiting for my arrival at home.  I thought about how much of my Time Magazines or MSN online I actually read and how much print is just... there... for me to wade through to get to the good stuff.  It's no wonder educational standards now include critical reading, and teachers teach students to think about the author's perspective, who pays for a particular ad, how to understand the spin put on a speech or an article.  How marketing works to make you think you really want or need something.

And then I thought about novels and the idea that we read them for enjoyment, for entertainment, for interesting ideas or new directions of thought.  And I thought about how novelists are sparse with their words because we don't want to have to wade through noise like we do in almost all other print to get to what's important.  A novel isn't going to have printed directions on the cover telling me to hold the book in one hand and open the cover, then read the pages in order.  A novel generally assumes I have a brain and often presents an idea without telling me what my opinion is.

So, yes, great novelists.... I agree with you.  Write only the words you need.  Cut out all the crap.  And may all my future writing epiphanies come to me over chocolate. :)


Cruella Collett said...

You make a good point here - writers should try to stay to the point (which is hard for me to acknowledge, as I am a Digressionist to the bone). To an extent, though, what you are writing matters. If people click on a blog with the word "Digressions" in the title (like mine), they should expect the prose to derail every now and then. If and when I write a novel, however, I will have to give up that particular aspect of my voice.

I do like how you made this realization over chocolate. There are a lot of useless writing floating around on products we buy. I've seen a couple "open here" on things that definitely does not open there... (in which case it is not only useless, it is misleading!)

Piedmont Writer said...

I've found that when epiphanies come over chocolate, those are the ones we really should listen to.

It's almost divine guidance.

Old Kitty said...

LOL! Chocolate is the best muse ever!!! I love your new haircut and avatar! And what a sweet thing for your class to give you- they so know you! :-)

I think all these cautionary words on products are so that they don't get sued! There is a news story around about a woman keen to sue Google maps because said google maps never told her not to cross a particularly dangerous bit of road. I think she crossed it and nearly got run over. Her defence is that google should have had a warning of some kind. Or that case of this other woman who sued McDonalds because she scalded herself with coffee bought there - her defence was that the cup didn't have a warning that the coffee was hot. I think she won her case?

But you are right about cutting the crap though! My favourite one is on a bag of unshelled monkey peanuts. "Warning: this bag MAY (my capital letters) contain nuts".

Enjoy your chocolate!
Take care

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I don't know if those writerly fellows are trying to tell you how to write, so much as giving advice to people who (like me!) are looking for it and appreciate/want it. I hope no one's actually told you how to write! That'd be horrible - everyone writes differently, right?
I've never been told to stop writing for myself and start writing for an audience, though - maybe I listen to different writerly types? :) I've been told to keep audience in mind, but to write the story for the story. You know?
By the way, great job decluttering! I always have such a hard time doing that, I'm a bit of a hoarder. :D And yeah, chocolates the awesomest. Ever. :D

SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. said...

hehe :D I love when they put directions like that ... so ridiculous.

But a nice thought about WHY writer's have to cut the unnecessary stuff. It's true. If I pick up a book that has too much to wade through I will tend to put it down and walk away.

Yeah! for Chocolate Revelations :)

sarahjayne smythe said...

I love chocolate and I love your epiphany. I had mine years ago, and have spent years cutting out the crap by cutting down my verbiage. I'm thrilled with the effect on my writing, but since I'm still writing for me, we shall see how it all ends up.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great post - cutting the crap is so important.

I think the silliest label I've read was on a high chair - "Remove baby before folding". No kidding :)

Kelly Bryson said...

Haha- my knee jerk reaction to writerly instruction is to think "I already knew that", too. Whether I was doing it or not is a different thing!

(Though I make a huge effort to be teachable and to seriously consider my trusted critters, but it takes an effort. And I love them for sticking by me. I usually just think about crits for a few days or weeks until I've convinced myself that the change was my idea in the first place.)

And hmmm. Chocolate. Caramel. Brownies. The kind you bake, not the kind that sell cookies. Hmmm. Cookies...Cut that kind of crap?

coffeelvnmom said...

Great post. And really, do they actually think we're not going to FIND a way to get into that chocolate?

Kristin Rae said...

Well said! And what's funny, I ALWAYS laugh at "lift and pull to open" on those chocolates. Glad I'm not the only one that took note of that. lol.

Talli Roland said...

Cut the crap - exactly! It's easy to waffle on, and hard to get to the point in words. Thanks for the reminder!

April said...

You make a very good point, and this is always something I have to work on very hard. I'm way too good at dragging out my stories. I remember in school, I'd get my papers back (we were allowed to turn them in before the date they were due for review, and then we could also work on them after the original grade - my AP Lit teacher was awesome), with entire paragraphs slashed. I tend to get wordy, so my revisions - as much as I usually add to the story, I also have to take out a lot of unnecessary words.

Printhis said...

I really like your blog! I'm a new author and have enjoyed this new experience. I find that it's the most difficult and most rewarding. I'm also a graphic designer and love having that creative outlet as well.
Thanks for your post! I will be back for more updates. :-)

Melissa Nielsen

Lisa Gail Green said...

Mmmm chocolate. What? You thought I was going to comment on literary style and writerly advice?

Palindrome said...

O.M.G. There's only one thing I love above chocolate and that's caramel. Why do you torture me so with pictures of caramelly chocolate? Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm....drool.

prashant said...

I do like how you made this realization over chocolate.
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Michelle Gregory said...

i think writing for yourself is still a good idea. if you don't like the story, will anyone else?