Copyright 2017. Jennifer Phillips, Author. All rights reserved.
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There’s a quote out there in the Internet world that I’ve pinned and come back to periodically: Creativity is subtraction. Lately, I’ve found myself thinking of this often as I revised picture book drafts.
I’m a wordy writer. I start with drafts that are way too long. Then I trim. And trim. And trim. I can’t always see where I need to subtract without someone’s fresh eyes to help me. But I’m okay subtracting.
How does subtracting unleash creativity?
It leaves more to the imagination.
It removes distractions and helps you find the heart of your story or character or setting (or all of these).
It can strengthen the impact.
It makes things simpler, which increases understanding and interest.
I used to be an innovation manager in my day job. We were in constant pursuit of how to simplify things for our customers and teams. You provoke a team’s thinking by asking them to give up something they don’t think can be given up (a system feature, a process step, etc.). That’s subtraction.
My best recent examples of subtraction in my picture book drafts involves the advice that pb writers give each other to “kill the parents.” Sounds awful, I know. I always cringe. What’s meant, of course, is that parents or other grown-ups can easily become dominant characters when you need your story to remain child-focused. I have three manuscripts where I reluctantly, after much resistance, subtracted the parents mostly or completely from the stories. All three stories feel lighter and more successful because of this.
There’s a place for strategically adding and thoughtfully replacing in our writing. But for now, be brave and go find something to subtract from one of your drafts!
December 2017 Behind the Curtain Journal Entry:
The Importance of Subtraction
I am journaling about my writing and submission experiences. My goal is to provide helpful, honest details and encouragement to kids, teachers, other writers and those considering the writing life. Feel free to send me questions through my contact page.