I apologize for the absence in blogging. I was away at a really fine writer’s conference and came back to a manuscript I was editing that was facing a quick deadline. In fact, I’m still busy enough that today’s blog will be short, but hopefully meaningful. (And to my FB friends, this is not the rant. Sorry Patrick).
In this week’s Publisher’s Weekly, there’s a brief interview with Toni Morrison. A couple of her answers to PW’s questions jumped out at me as important points for every writer to remember, so I offer them with hopes they will help. They are applicable to writers of both fiction and non-fiction.
The first point is found in Ms. Morrison’s statement, “I know what to leave out—which is the most important thing. It’s not what you put in, it’s what you don’t say that makes a powerful difference.” That confirms what my artist friend Jean-Paul Dusseault has told me about art. Good art—and good writing—is as much about what is left out as it is about what is seen or written. Nuanced truth is, I believe, more effectively received than truth overtly spelled out for the reader. Often, that nuance is a result of what you’re leaving out, not what you’re saying. Going through the second, third, or fourth draft of a manuscript is the time to be looking for scenes, dialogue, or narrative that is too obvious and needs to be cut. As a writer, learn what to leave out. It’s as important as what to put in.
The second point was when the PW interviewer asked Ms. Morrison if she still writes with No. 2 pencils on a yellow legal pad. She said, yes, she does, but “when I’ve done a chunk of it, I put it on the computer and print it out.” The interviewer then says, “And then you edit it.” She replies, “Back and forth, back and forth. It works for me.”
I’m afraid too many of us eliminate much of the “back and forth, back and forth” stage of editing our manuscripts. Most good writers will take their fiction manuscripts through six or seven drafts (or more). Each draft should bring the story closer to perfection.
So, there are today’s two lessons. They can be summed up as “Know what to leave out of your writing” and “Back and forth, back and forth.” Two very important principles that will result in much better writing.