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Don't Take It From Me

Sometimes, when I'm teaching a workshop and advising a group of eager-to-learn writers to cut as much as possible from their prose, or to remove as many adjectives and adverbs as possible, they look at me as though I'm just making up stuff! I try not to take it personally, because I didn't believe it either when I started writing, but I've learned that the more words we edit out, the more powerful those left become.

To back that up, here are a few authors you may have heard of saying that, and much more about the power of editing, in their own words.

In art economy is always beauty.
Henry James

The work was like peeling an onion. The outer skin came off with difficulty... but in no time you'd be down to its innards, tears streaming from your eyes as more and more beautiful reductions became possible.
Edward Blishen

Art, it seems to me, should simplify finding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole—so that all that one has suppressed and cut away is there to the reader's consciousness as much as if it were in type on the page.
Willa Cather

When in doubt, delete it.
Philip Cosby

Will you tell me my fault, frankly as to yourself, for I had rather wince, than die. Men do not call the surgeon to commend the bone, but to set it, Sir.
Emily Dickinson

I suppose some editors are failed writers; but so are most writers.
T.S. Eliot

What I have crossed out I didn't like. What I haven't crossed out I'm dissatisfied with.
Cecil B. De Mille

A writer is unfair to himself when he is unable to be hard on himself.
Marianne Moore

Remember the waterfront shack with the sign FRESH FISH SOLD HERE. Of course it's fresh, we're on the ocean. Of course it's for sale, we're not giving it away. Of course it's here, otherwise the sign would be someplace else. The final sign: FISH.
Peggy Noonan

The waste basket is a writer's best friend.
Isaac Bashevis Singer

There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don't see them.
Elie Wiesel

There is but one art, to omit.
Robert Louis Stephenson



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