Cut What Doesn’t Belong

When I was a kid, my dad used to get super mad when my sisters and I left stuff on our bedroom floors. He hated the mess.

One time it got to him so much that he announced that anything still on the floor in 15 minutes would be going into the garbage.

We all knew well enough to take him seriously, a mad scramble ensued, and this strategy proved so effective that he repeated it periodically for years to come.

My parents also used to flip houses, and we moved about as often as most families went on holidays.

Every move was a new opportunity for a ‘cull’, and a perversely festive mood would take over the house as we all pottered around with big black garbage bags throwing away anything that wasn’t essential.

All this gave me a compulsive need as an adult to throw away things I haven’t used in about 30 seconds, which I have had to consciously tame so that I stop throwing away things with sentimental value and re-use potential.

However, I believe it also gave me a massive edge in my work.

Great writing is as much about what you don’t say, about what you leave out, about what you cut, as what you actually put on the page.

Great writing comes from being able to cast an observant eye over your work — and often by extension, your life — to challenge each moment, each element, to prove its worth, its relevance.

The ability to be ruthless, to excise what doesn’t serve your greater narrative — that’s power.

It separates good from great, and makes your work tight and forceful. It gives your work clarity and assurance.

Look hard at your drafts. Don’t flinch from the page. Cut what doesn’t belong, and let shine what remains.