Enough, Part II

As I mentioned, the theme of "what will suffice" has been cropping up everywhere in my life lately. In the arena of writing, all the greats have hammered away (does one "hammer" in an arena?) at the concept of finding what will suffice. In poetry, especially, this is necessary. Here is William Safire's rollicking advice for writers:

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don't start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.
~William Safire, "Great Rules of Writing"

(Anne Fadiman has a whole essay about footnotes and plagiarism that reads like this, by the way. Thirty-eight footnotes in nine pages of an essay about writers using other writers' material. It's in Ex Libris. She called it "Nothing New Under the Sun," and she even footnoted the title!)

"What will suffice." Writers who are any good know what will suffice. And after these writers write, they re-write. Don't you think that says something? Virtuosos practice and have coaches. They hone in on the good, and practice only that. Sculptors take away all of the marble that is not the statue - and know what of the marble is the statue. And writers put thousands and thousands of words on pages (or screens), and then remove what is not the writing. They hone in on the word - the message - the intention and the delivery of the intention - and then take out everything that is not the word. And none of it is in the first pass. The first draft is shapeless marble. The first sightreading session is only an approach and an introduction.

If it's messy, that doesn't mean you're not doing it right. It only means you're not done yet.

Finding what will suffice is not the same thing as winning the lottery. Finding what will suffice is a whole lot more like work.

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