cutting back (soLs)

As a writer, I often “prune” my words. As Ralph Fletcher taught in one of his early books, it is often by cutting back the extra, wild, or dead parts that a flower flourishes. The same is true for our words.

I like to share this idea with students too. Young writers are often consumed with adding words. It’s a big shift to consider cutting back. Yet, writing well is just as much about what you don’t say as what you do say. Revising is just as much about adding for clarity as it is cutting for meaning. Still, it is hard.

Over the years I’ve learned to detach from my words. I’m willing to let them go because I know that’s how my writing flourishes. It is an art to write succinctly. It is a craft to cut.

Recently my writing life has been pruned. Not the words. The living. This has been a bit of a tough transition for me. I ache from being cut back. I’m learning to live a little leaner in my word count. I miss my comfortable routine. I’m floundering to find a new rhythm.

But I’m trusting the process. I know cutting back often results in stronger, more substantial, and deeper roots. I believe less is more. I’m confident this isn’t giving up, but rather growing out of my old writer skin.

So this month (and next month) I’m not putting quite so many words on the page. I’m not filling up notebooks as quickly. The spaces in my life are being filled with other good stuff. I’m documenting the moments. I’m dreaming of new writing paths. I’m settling into the stillness. I’m reminding myself that writing is an art.

And like all artistic endeavors the work ebbs and flows. I’ve been riding a strong writing wave for many years. Now I must be content to slow down. I must trust that I can still live as a writer even if I write a few less words. After all, it is impossible to stop the march of words. I can only slow them down and create space in my life for new learning and understandings.

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7 Comments »

  1. Pruning. Love this metaphor. Flourish you will! “Growing out of my old writer skin” is a strong image. It is an image that denotes you are ready for renewal, ready to embrace the change. It seems to me that as you stop struggling against the current of this new life rhythm, as you shed that old skin, you will find a new flow.

  2. It's important you find new ways to fulfill, I believe strongly, or we grow stagnant, repeating old ways, maybe even wearing them threadbare. I like that you are getting comfortable with this, and finding that the time previously spent is filled again with other good things. Thanks for sharing the idea so well, Ruth.

  3. My life seems to be pruning my writing for me – maybe that is why my bottle had a narrow neck today. I guess I should rethink my contents – maybe I'm in the process of thickening, condensing, enriching the contents so they pour more like honey than cheap maple syrup.

  4. What a thoughtful reflection of your writing life. Change can be challenging because it stretches and pulls us into new places. It can be exciting for the same reasons. It will be interesting to find where this different path takes you.

  5. The ebb and flow rings so true. I have been doing my own reflections about cutting back and where I need to reel back in certain aspects of my life in order to make more time for family. The realization that just because I do less of some aspects now does not mean that it will always be that way helps so much. I know that later I can return to doing more of some of the other aspects but that now is the only chance that I can experience this phase of my girls' lives.