Bare Bones: choosing what’s essential in writing and in life

Bare Bones: The basic elements or essentials

MAINE 2011 008I had a 1600 word essay that I wanted to turn into a 1000 word essay in order for it to fit into a specific magazine. Cutting out more than a third of a piece of writing may sound a bit daunting to some, but I loved the challenge of this. It took me a fair amount of time and effort for sure, but I really, really wanted this piece in this particular publication, so it was well worth it. The fun of it was that I had to make every word count. I don’t always do this in my writing, so it was good practice. I had to cut large chunks out of the essay, parts that I originally thought belonged there. Thirty eight percent of the essay had to go, to be exact. I cut out words, then whole paragraphs, picking and choosing what could be sacrificed, what was essential and what was just fluff. In other words, I had to get down to the bare bones and this required deciding: what are the bare bones? What is essential?

And this is what I love about simplifying. It’s a creative privilege, a designing of one’s own life, getting to decide what to keep and what to get rid of. It’s something I have not mastered, and will not ever truly master. Ah, but the lofty goal, the striving toward, no matter how many times I fall short, makes me happy. To only keep what we use or love, buy what we need; to only think about what serves us well and only eat what is good for us. To only say what we mean. What simply amazing results this could all have.

This paring down of the essay was something I could do, completely and successfully. I had a definite limit- 1000 words- and the result I was going for was clear-to have this piece published. It was work and art and love and simplifying, all for a useful purpose. To write what I mean and mean what I write.

When I was finished, although there were parts missing, left unsaid, I realized that I actually liked it better than before. What I had originally thought was essential, wasn’t. It was shorter, more concise and somehow a bit more powerful, in my opinion. I haven’t heard from the editor yet, so I can’t truly claim victory over this task, but I am satisfied. I did the best I could, and said the most I can say with the fewest number of words.

Which reminds me of a line I recently read on Theo Pauline Nestor’s blog. She quoted Vivian Gornick, regarding writing memoir: ‘ It’s all in the art. You get no credit for living.’

Living is art, and we get to pick what our bare bones are. When the essential gets buried in too much fluff, we have to go digging to find it. And when we strive to keep the essential front and center, dusted off and cared for, unencumbered by the extraneous, that is its own reward.

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