“A composer’s most important tool is an eraser.” –Arnold Schoenberg
In a particularly thorny spot with my writing at the moment, trying to wrestle 100 different ways to say the same thing down to one, I say to Mr. Schoenberg ” You got that right!” Whether it's composing, writing, cooking or living, knowing what to include and what to leave out, what to keep and what to toss, is key.
The first step in good writing is to splash everything out and don’t hold back. Let it gush.
The second step is to get out your eraser. Take out everything that distracts, that covers, that confuses the main point and chisel it down to the essence. (I forget which sculptor it was that said that he saw the image in the block of wood and his job was simply to take away the unneeded parts. But there you go.)
Duke Ellington once told an aspiring jazz pianist: “My, you play so many notes.”
An author letter to a friend and said, “Sorry I didn’t have time to make this shorter.”
And so Art is as much about what you don’t say as what you do say. Maybe even more so. As a writer, it’s hard to throw away all those words you wrote, but really, you can’t get attached to them. I often dump them in a “leftover folder” just in case there were some flakes of gold hidden in the gravel that I overlooked.
Some of it has to do with trusting your intuition. When I read something I wrote and I know I got it, I know I got it. When something feels a little off and I find myself saying, “Yes, but it’s important because…” that’s a warning sign. I didn’t get it and I’m trying to convince myself. Let it go!
Of course, these posts are larger unedited and the erasing part is minimal, but that’s just the nature of the beast. For the things that will end up on paper, one needs to take it more seriously. I'm keeping that eraser by my side.