A minimalist's approach to writing and editing

Last night I went to Chapters bookstore to see a talk by Josh and Ryan of The Minimalists. They are two young guys from Montana who climbed the corporate ladder only to become unhappy, and then finally found happiness by quitting their jobs and living with less stuff. They now write books and tour the country to spread their message about finding passion and purpose in life and how living with less stuff can make you more happy. So it got me thinking, how could the minimalist mind make me a better writer and editor?

Living a less complicated life can help unclutter your mind. When you have fewer responsibilities and possession, you have less debt and stress, which ultimately frees up the mind to think. And nothing is more important to a writer and editor than being able to create, deliberate and contemplate word choices.

Photo by Adam Dressler, Design by +Spyr Media

A minimalist will look at his possessions and say, "Does this item add value to my life?" and if the answer is no, then give it away. This is an excellent rule for writers and editors, too. "Does this word/sentence/paragraph add value to my book?" and if no, get rid of it. A minimalist would also say, "Everything I own should have a function," which could translate to "Every word has a function (e.g., noun, pronoun, verb), and if it's not doing its job then fix it or toss it out."

Here are some writing and editing tips inspired by a minimalist mind:

- Get back to basics. The most minimalist of writing tools are a chair, desk, lamp, paper, pencil, laptop. Josh and Ryan actually went to a cottage in the woods for four months to write their new book. They had no distractions, just focus: brain, fingers, type, create. 

- Clean your desk. Piles of papers, to-do lists, file folders, business cards, and general crappola are not going to help you work harder or better. Your desk is a reflection of your mind - so unclutter it.

- Clean your desktop. Too much social media in a day and other nagging Word and spreadsheet files open on your computer can send little waves of stress coursing through your veins, leading to distraction. Don't get stuck in a wormhole, focus on one task at a time until it's finished.  

- Give yourself space to think. Get up from your chair and pace the hall. Go for a walkabout through the neighborhood. Let your mind settle and come to creative solutions to problems. You need to give yourself time to see the forest for the trees. If the structure and message of your document doesn't make sense, there's no point spending all day in the weeds. 

- Eat well. Don't stuff your face with coffee and sugar and expect a quiet mind. You may be on a deadline and need that extra energy to get through the day, but it's not worth the anxiety and stress that come with it.

- Less tinkering is the best editing. There are many ways to write the same sentence, so if the sentence works, let it be. Don't move the words around just for the sake of moving them around.

Happy wordsmithing, y'all!

Stacey D. Atkinson is a freelance editor and author of Stuck, a novel she published via her independent company Mirror Image Publishing.  

  

6 comments

  • Ebonye
    Ebonye
    This was a great post! Thank you Stacey! I hope you don't mind, but I reposted it on the ARP blog and linked it back here. Great work!

    This was a great post! Thank you Stacey! I hope you don't mind, but I reposted it on the ARP blog and linked it back here. Great work!

  • Stacey
    Stacey
    Thanks, Ebonye! Yes, please feel free to share the post.

    Thanks, Ebonye! Yes, please feel free to share the post.

  • Catherine
    Catherine
    Hi Stacey, I just finished reading Stuck and really enjoyed it - particularly the ending bit :) Congratulations on a very well done novel. I'd love to get togeather sometime and chat writing if you are up for it. Do let me know! (I'm a writer in Ottawa as well - more on me at bumpyboobs.wordpress.com or catherinebrunelle.com)Maybe we could have you as a guest on our Ottawa Writes podcast sometime? Catherine

    Hi Stacey, I just finished reading Stuck and really enjoyed it - particularly the ending bit smile Congratulations on a very well done novel. I'd love to get togeather sometime and chat writing if you are up for it. Do let me know! (I'm a writer in Ottawa as well - more on me at bumpyboobs.wordpress.com or catherinebrunelle.com)Maybe we could have you as a guest on our Ottawa Writes podcast sometime?

    Catherine

  • Stacey
    Stacey
    Hi Catherine, so nice to hear from you and thanks for the lovely comments about my book. Yes, let's do coffee - Ottawa writers unite!

    Hi Catherine, so nice to hear from you and thanks for the lovely comments about my book. Yes, let's do coffee - Ottawa writers unite!

  • Nickola
    Nickola
    Love the concept! We had to chuck loads of stuff when we moved into our new place. Have you read the Minimalism book and would you recommend it?

    Love the concept! We had to chuck loads of stuff when we moved into our new place. Have you read the Minimalism book and would you recommend it?

  • Stacey
    Stacey
    I haven't read the book, only flipped through it. But I have friends who've read it and say it's very inspiring!

    I haven't read the book, only flipped through it. But I have friends who've read it and say it's very inspiring!

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