August 19, 2017

Write with your eraser

Newspaper + marker = poetry for Austin Kleon

“Instead of starting with a blank page, poet Austin Kleon grabs a newspaper and a permanent marker and eliminates the words he doesn’t need.”
— NPR’s “Morning Edition”

Talk about writing with an eraser.

Austin Kleon is a writer, cartoonist and designer living in Austin, Texas. He’s the author of Newspaper Blackout, a book of poetry he created by blacking words out of pages of The New York Times with a Sharpie.

eliminate words you dont need

Creativity is subtraction Austin Kleon creates poetry by “subtracting” words from newspaper pages with a marker.

He calls his technique, which began as an antidote to writer’s block, “subtraction.” The results look like redacted documents but read like poetry.

“I didn’t know what I was doing, or why,” Kleon writes in his introduction. “All I knew was that it was fun to watch those words disappear behind that fat black marker line. It didn’t feel like work; it felt like play.”

It’s what you cut that counts.

If Leslie Vance were a writer, her most important tools would be an eraser and a delete key.

Vance, one of the most compelling artists in the new Whitney Biennial, is inspired by the 17th century Spanish still-lifes. She arranges and lights fruit, shells and other objects, then “paints” the arrangement using a palette knife, scraping away layers of paint to create the final piece.

In writing, sometimes it’s what you scrape away that reveals the most gripping argument. Look at the copy you’re working on today. Don’t ask “What could I add?” Instead, ask: “What could I take away to make this piece stronger and more vivid?”

Remove the clutter.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Masterpieces of French Art Deco exhibit includes a dazzling set of reverse-painted and gilded glass panels designed by Jean Dupas for the first-class salon of the ocean liner Normandie. The curators themselves call the piece “magnificent.”

Problem is, there’s no way to get an uninterrupted view of the panels. Wherever you stand, displays of vases and other gewgaws stand in the way.

If you have a dazzling argument, don’t clutter it up with everything you know about the topic. Sometimes the best way to make a strong point is to clear out the extraneous data that might otherwise obscure the main event.

How can you eliminate the words you don’t need to make your copy leaner and more engaging?

  • Cut Through the Clutter

    Is your copy easy to read? According to communication experts, that’s one of the two key questions people ask to determine whether to read a piece — or toss it.

    Fortunately, academics have tested and quantified what makes copy easy to read. Unfortunately, that research virtually never makes it out of the ivory tower and into the hands of writers who could actually apply it.

    Cut Through the Clutter - Ann Wylie's concise writing master class on Aug. 17-18 in San FranciscoAt Cut Through the Clutter — a two-day concise-writing master class on Aug. 17-18 in San Francisco — you’ll learn “the numbers” you need to measurably improve your copy’s readability.

    Specifically, you’ll learn:

    • How long is too long: For your paragraphs? Your sentences? Your words?
    • Three ways to shorten your copy — and which is the most effective way.
    • How to avoid causing your reader to skip your paragraphs.
    • A tool you can use (you already have it, but you might not know it) to quantifiably improve your copy’s readability.
    • A seven-step system for making your copy clearer and more concise.

    Learn more about the Master Class.

    Register for Cut Through the Clutter - Ann Wylie's concise writing master class on Aug. 17-18 in San Francisco

    Browse all upcoming Master Classes.

    Would you like to hold an in-house Cut Through the Clutter workshop? Contact Ann directly.


Source: Kimberley Jones, “But Is It Art? Austin Kleon gets creative with poetry in his new collection, ‘Newspaper Blackout,’” The Austin Chronicle, April 9, 2010

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