For years, I’ve enjoyed studying John D. Rockefeller, industrialist and one of the founders of Standard Oil.
Admired and reviled, he was an astonishing philanthropist, someone whose business ran others out of their business. Like him or not, John D. Rockefeller revolutionized industry and changed the meaning of philanthropy as he gave away much of his fortune.
It’s not as well known that Rockefeller also used his single-mindedness and focus as a writer. Considering he had plenty to occupy his day, John D. scoured his work with a careful eye, writing and rewriting until he had a tight, well-crafted document.
It isn’t really about spewing words on a page – it’s about staying on-message, weeding out words that don’t bloom where they’re planted.
A few years ago, the kids and I were reading the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We learned that Laura and her sisters each had only one or two toys.
We decided to give this a whirl. Books went back on the shelves, Matchbox cars were stowed in their boxes, dolls tossed in the toy box. Each kid chose two toys, and for the next few hours, that’s all they played with.
At first, it was exciting.
Wow! I’m just like Laura Ingalls Wilder!
It didn’t take long for this exercise to turn into a perceived restriction. Just two toys? What can I do with them??
But like many other situations, a perceived restriction often spurs creativity. The kids shared the toys, pooled their efforts and had fun together.
It’s a bit like writing – we have thousands of words at our disposal, but we really only need a few of them. Revising isn’t a fun part of writing, but it’s very necessary. I tend to do a “word dump,” writing all at once. But I never submit my work afterward. Instead, I step away, and if possible, let at least a day pass before I return and start hacking away.
That restriction is a lot like gardening – pull the weeds, and you’re left with work that blooms.
How do you “weed” your writing?