Sparse Prose


English: Hemingway posing for a dust jacket ph...

English: Hemingway posing for a dust jacket photo by Lloyd Arnold at the Sun Valley Lodge, Idaho, late 1939. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This Weekly Writing Challenge asks “Go back through your blog archives and find a bloated, nasty, air-filled paragraph. Copy it in all it’s former glory into a new post. Paste it a second time so that you can edit it until it cries for mercy and we can see the strong, shiny, new version below. Strip out the adverbs, replace weak verbs with strong verbs, axe the bloated phrasery that takes up space and yet says nothing.”

It adds “Editing takes practice. Self-editing can be especially difficult because it’s often hard to see the problems with our own writing. Perseverance pays off — keep at it — the lean and mean prose you produce will be worth the effort.”

That’s true. Editing does take practice. Truth is that this exercise isn’t going to be easy for me as I’ve had practice. I spent several years as a magazine editor with some hard teachers. The two copy editors I worked with had both previously worked at a good newspaper and were patient teachers.

When I finished I could write tight prose and had little problem cutting a magazine contribution by a quarter. When I post something on this blog it’s already had a tight edit.

That said lets give it a try. First the original.

From “My Baby Pillow And Meditation”

The first baby pillow caused a huge rumpus; when my mother was at the University studying one weekend my father had to call the doctor and he mentioned how dirty my baby pillow was. My Dad took it upon himself to get rid of it. After he had thrown it into the incinerator my mother came home to discover a four year old frantic and screaming so the sewing machine came out and with an old throw pillow contributing the filling and a tablecloth contributing the black and white check cotton a new one (with one of the old baby pillowcases on it) was rushed into service. Mum said she first spent ten minutes telling my father exactly what she thought of his intelligence and thinking then not talking to him for two days.

Now for an edit.

My first baby pillow caused a real rumpus. Mum was out Saturday. My father had to call the doctor for me. He called my pillow “dirty”. Dad got rid of it in the incinerator and Mum arrived to a four year old frantic and screaming. The sewing machine came out, a throw pillow gave up the filling and a black and white check tablecloth the cover. The new one, with an old pillowcase on it, was rushed into service. Mum gave Dad her thoughts on his intelligence for ten minutes then the cold shoulder for two days.

134 words to 97. Not bad, I think I’ll take that. I’m not sure that the second version is better but it is tighter. The Weekly Writing Challenge named Ernest Hemingway as known for his “unadorned, sparse prose style” and so before attempting this edit I dragged ‘The Old Man And The Sea’ off the shelves and read a few pages. To me my edited version feels more like Papa Hemingway’s style than my own and I think I was subconsciously going for that when I did my edit.

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5 thoughts on “Sparse Prose

  1. This is excellent, I couldn’t do it. I honestly tried failing miserably, my final paragraph read like the writing of a fith grader who should have been held back.
    “The Sun Also Rises” is my all time favorite book and I also enjoy “The Old Man and The Sea” thus I was even more dissapointed in self.
    Great post! Also, I see Hemingway in the second paragraph though I agree neither is better. Mainly to me it shows your talent and versatility as a writer.

    • Thanks. I don’t think I could write that way all the time. If it hadn’t been way too late at night for me when I finished I was thinking of doing an edit that was more my style but tighter as a third alternative.

  2. I really like the second version but you’re right — it would be exhausting to write that way as the first output, all the time.

  3. Pingback: The Papa Hemingway Writing Challenge | Jake Kuyser

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