Monday, June 29, 2009

Let Go, Write Strong, Build Readership

Lean-To 2

You've seen it before. The burdened poem. A heavy-laden sentence. Blog posts that go on and on. Chapters that would have done well if they ended three pages ago.

We all create overstuffed writing sometimes, much to the chagrin (or boredom, frustration, and unhappy surprise) of our readers and editors. We want to hold on to all of our words, each of our sparkling thoughts or stories. But the poems, sentences, chapters, readers and editors of the world wish we'd simply let go.

I understand. I'm not immune. What to do? Here are 5 things I try to remember, to help me let go and write strong:

1. Aim for arresting details, then trim those that don't add extra force to the text. Refrain from being too sad about this (see number 3 below); remember, this practice wins points with readers and editors.

2. Trust the reader. If details are strong, readers can catch the import without a lot of explanation and application talk. I dare say that religious writers are particularly remiss in this area, as they spend too much time overlaying the God-aspect in their stories, poems and posts. We don't need to say, "He redeemed the situation by His powerful hand," if we've made it crystal clear through redemptive details.

3. Save it for later. This is especially hard for the new author/blogger, eager to fill a book/blog post with everything she knows on a subject. Remember, there'll be other chances. For instance, this weekend I was tempted to add a section to my Hospitality chapter, on the sometimes inhospitable ways we practice communion in our churches. But the chapter was already pleased with itself. So I started a file called "God in the Yard Blog Posts" and sketched my idea for a future blog post (once the book comes out and I want to extend ideas through conversation).

4. Give ideas away. Sometimes it's nice to pass things along to other writers, who have a built-in audience for your idea. (This point is also my tiny plug for Lewis Hyde's The Gift. In Chapter 2, he asserts that we keep a gift by giving part of it away. As Hyde says, "...where true, organic increase is at issue, gift exchange preserves that increase" )

5. Print it out, let it sit. I don't print my blog posts (maybe I should!), but I do print my articles and chapters. Then I let them sit for a day or a month. Creating distance between ourselves and a text, as well as seeing it in a different form (paper versus screen) goes a long way towards helping us appreciate the power of deletion.

So that's it. If we let go, we write strong. (Now let me see, where's that delete button...)

Empty Swing photo, by L.L. Barkat.

The Gift: Take, Eat, This is My Tweet
When Did You Labor, or will Sabbath help your gift go viral?
Womb, Harlequin, and License Plates: The Gift, 1

Laura's Blowing in the Wind

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Blogger TAMI said...

Though I'm not a professional writer, I could certainly identify with your 5 points as a amateur reader!! Well thought - and I especially like the last one, since it applies to numerous areas of life. Put some distance between it.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Virginia Knowles said...

Thanks again for a timely post on writing. I'm currently choosing what to include in the next issue of my Hope Chest home school e-magazine and what to leave for another time or skip altogether. Fortunately, I can post stuff to my blog ( or my web site ( and then just link to it from within the e-magazine. People can choose to click on it or not. Ah, the beauty of technology!

9:27 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Inspiring, like a cold drink to my poor, tired mind. Thanks, LL.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Good words. Yes, I could use to brush up on word efficiency! Seems I've been too tired lately to pay attention/edit out the unnecessary.

As always, sound advice, lovely teacher.

12:09 PM  
Anonymous heather said...

At an arts conference recently, the speakers spoke of creating half a scene and giving the audience the opportunity to craft the other half. It's hard to let go like that, but as a reader, I find it more rewarding when I can enter into a story by not just reading it but helping to create it.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Sam Van Eman said...


1:35 PM  
Blogger Joyeful said...

I seem to be a lover of the unnecessary. Letting go is hard for me at times--I like the frills! But the bare necessities do give us room to breath, I agree.

Your words and poems leave plenty of breathing room! I have enjoyed my first visit here today!

3:04 PM  
Blogger Monica Sharman said...

That's the thing about blogging---I have no editor. So, thanks. :)
This week's poem:

3:23 PM  
Anonymous Bradley J Moore said...

Great advice, coming from a pro! I admit that I fall in love with my own words, too many of them, and hate to see them go. But I am getting better at it (I think). One thing I can say that I am better at is your suggestion of letting the writing sit for a while, then coming back to it. Most of my posts have been hard-wrought works that took days and weeks. I rarely post something that hasn't been through several rounds with the team of critics inside my head. Then the editors have had a lot less to do by the time they get it.

7:08 PM  
Blogger GratefulinGA said...

(((blushing))) Guilty as charged on all 5 counts.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Sherri Murphy said...

I've always been a wordy girl.

I'll try to start using your suggestions.


(It was hard for me to keep this comment as short as it is, but I'm trying!)

11:50 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I am learning. Thank you for teaching.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I agree with Claire's comment...

My poem for this weeks is here...

Thank you!

10:35 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I have found that practicing this poetry thing helps me release some of the burden of words in my prose. This week's RAP was no different. There is joy in suggestion, freedom in simplicity.


3:57 PM  
Blogger Joelle said...

Oh, I am guilty of attachment to my prolific words. Having a little chat with myself about letting go the too much I am infatuated with but no one else will love as I do....

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Kilauea Poetry said...

I've often erred in this area. Poetry has helped me condense things quite a bit though..but I just re-read a poem I'd written earlier and broke in up in two parts. Distance..I agree. I like your helpful tips & the reminder to pass things along too. Nice post.

1:28 AM  
Blogger sojourner said...

L.L. These are great tips! Thank you for the sharing of them. I'm going to print them out and stick them in my journal. FYI, I posted a RAP offering. Enjoy your 4th weekend!

12:22 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

It's funny that I came to read this after I had just been mulling over the same things, working on my 'I slipped...' poem for this week. It's still a hasty attempt, but much shorter than originally conceived...

4:26 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

My poem for the week:

6:34 AM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, good points one and all. :)

11:56 AM  
Blogger Tea with Tiffany said...

Great tips. I agree...

1:03 AM  

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