Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wild Gardens of Prose

I had to thin out my my lettuce the other day. It seems counter-intuitive-- you toil and nurture and sow seeds and when the tender darlings sprout, you pluck half of them out. If you don't, your bunch fails to thrive, starved for air and space. You get an overcrowded, anemic crop. And no salad.

Editing is like that. Words and images are strangled without some air and space.

"Kill Your Darlings," Faulkner advised writers.

Samuel Johnson said, "Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out."

More pithy quotes:

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector.”
– Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

“The most important lesson in the writing trade is that any manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat.”
– Robert Heinlein (1907-1988)

“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”
– Truman Capote (1924-1984)

“I have been correcting the proofs of my poems. In the morning, after hard work, I took a comma out of one sentence…. In the afternoon I put it back again.”
– Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

“A burro is an ass. A burrow is a hole in the ground. As a journalist you are expected to know the difference.”
– United Press International Stylebook, cited by Bill Walsh in “The Elephants of Style”

“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
– Thomas Mann (1875-1955)

“Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.”
– Cicero (106-43 BC)

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