Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Cut the Crap

While I'm reading Bitter is the New Black and finding that "cut the crap" might be the mildest of Jen Lancaster's offenses, that's not what I mean.

After a morning of editing three essays for queries, I find that today more than ever I'm reflecting on the flabbiness of words. I'll realize this again in about three weeks when I'm grading the influx of short stories bombarding Blackboard (if they want a grade, that is), but over the summer, I've allowed myself to become blissfully unaware of how often my sentences strayed to say exactly what I meant -and with words that didn't work hard enough.

I'm thinking, right now, of Stephen King's lessons on nouns and verbs, and David Foster Wallace's aversion to "puffy" words. In fact, I had just watched a YouTube video of David Foster Wallace yesterday in which he addresses the economy of language. (http://youtu.be/E_sQrxAorDo)

And the economy of language is my focus today. It seems that no literary journal is looking for a creative nonfiction essay or book review over 1000 words (or at least none of the journals I was looking at). Three hours and three essays later, I finally removed past imperfect tense, and other flabby or careless word choices. Have you ever noticed that sometimes you don't know what to do with a sentence until you delete almost everything in it? Sometimes you need to cut to know where to cut. (My hairdresser said this, once, of my uber long hair.)

So here is my suggestion to you, dear reader: if you're stuck having to cut 1650 words down to 1000 (ouch), remind yourself that you need to cut the crap. No sentence fragment is so valuable that you need to go over it three times before finally deciding to cut it.

I mean, no one does that...

Books I’ve Finished This Year:
-East of Eden by John Steinbeck
-Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
-Silk by Alessandro Barico
-Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores
-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
-Animal Farm by George Orwell
-The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
-The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 
-Grimm's Fairytales by the Brothers Grimm
-Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut-The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost
-Old Man in the Sea by Hemingway
-On Paris by Hemingway
-The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison
-The Thin Man by Dashiel Hammett
-Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
-The Road by Carmac McCarthy
-More F in Exams/F for Effort by Richard Benson
-Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
-Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald by Scott Donaldson
-Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
-The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
-The Woman Who Wouldn't by Gene Wilder
-The Time Machine by Felix J. Palma

Currently Reading:
-Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

Books I Bought This Week:
-Bleak House by Charles Dickens
-Bizarre Books by Russell Ash and Brian Lake
-The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
-Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories by Richard Dalby 


  1. It's all in the crap cuttin'. You nailed it.

  2. So true! The economy of words is so important. And it's a lesson that you keep learning and repeating to yourself. Thanks for the reminder!