One of my favorite author quotes has long been from Elmore Leonard, “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” Ernest Hemingway meant something similar when he talked about good stories being like icebergs: “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”
In the minds of these writers, conciseness creates powerful prose when done correctly. Figuring out what readers will want to skip, however, can be tricky. The best method I’ve found for doing this is to practice short-form writing. Poetry is perhaps the most traditional example, but non-poets need not despair. Today’s world offers writers countless opportunities to practice making each word count.
Consider the Facebook “status update” and the Twitter “tweet.” Instead of seeing these social media platforms as a way to dash off a vague complaint from your daily life, a silly pop-culture reference, or a list of what you ate that day, view them for what they are: an opportunity to publish your writing and reach readers. Make those posts count.
Practice crafting each Facebook statement or Twitter comment into something literary, something that your fans (real or imagined) would enjoy. (If you want a really great example of this, read the daily “tweets” under #cnftweet on Twitter.) If you’d rather practice privately or if crafting a full story in 140 characters seems too difficult at first, consider signing up for the 100 Word Story project at http://www.100wordstory.org/. You also could practice on a pocket-sized notebook at home. Whichever way you choose to go about it, practicing short-form writing will dramatically improve your long-form projects. It may even get you new fans.
In addition to her freelance work, Sarah Hackley is the in-house editor for Absolute Love Publishing. For additional writing and publishing advice, visit the ALP blog.