“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
Hans Hofmann, Artist
Right above my desk I have a sign with the word “Simplify” carved into it. Every once in a while, I glance up at it, but I’ve realized recently that I need to take it to heart more fully, both in my everyday life and in my writing. On the writing front, I think I’d do well to keep in mind the quote above — and to “eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” What does this mean exactly?
I’m still puzzling this through, but here are a few other touchstone quotes that I’m using to help me simplify my writing life and focus on the essential job at hand:
“Do what you can with what you have where you are.” This age advice from Teddy Roosevelt always helps center me. It reminds me that wherever I am and whatever lies in front of me, there is always a step I can take from where I’m standing that will move me forward. It also reminds me that taking action counts: One small step after another will get me where I want to go.
“Be at the right place in the right time doing the right thing.” I have a plaque in my office with this quote and the headline, “Coach Gelston’s Only Rule.” My great friend and mentor Dr. Rob Gilbert gave it to me and he’s often cited this rule in his Success Hotline (973.743.4690). I like to look up at it because it reminds me that when I’m in my office sitting at my desk working away on a piece of writing I’m doing exactly what I need to do. If I’m spending a lot of time doing it — then I’m doing “the right thing.” If I’m not, then I’m not doing “the right thing.” Simple.
“Does this serve me?” A sage friend and mentor of mine knows a lot about simplifying. Over the years, she’s simplified her living space, her possessions, her activities. Lately, she’s been asking this question to simplify her life even more and to stay focused on what matters most to her. Lately, I’ve been using it too. Throughout the day, I’ve been taking a moment to look at what I’m doing and to ask myself, “Does this serve my writing?” If the answer is yes, I keep going. If it’s no, I stop and refocus. I’ve even been drawing inspiration from this question to go through some piles of paper cluttering my office and to winnow out some of my books and magazines. It’s really helping me streamline and simplify.
How about you? Are there any tools or techniques you’ve found helpful in simplifying your writing life? If so, I’d love to hear about them. Write on!