Quotes on compression

What writers and others say

Quotes on compression

Image by Dave

“Most speeches are like Texas longhorns — a point here, a point there, and a lot of bull in between.”
— Anonymous

“Editing writing is like reducing a good sauce.”
— Attendee in one of Ann Wylie’s writing classes

“The mean writer is always a lean writer.”
— William Blundell, author, The Art and Craft of Feature Writing

“synopsize: To condense the details of a boring, two-hour meeting into a briefer — yet still as boring — version.”

“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”
— Truman Capote, author of the first “nonfiction novel,” In Cold Blood

“Axe, cut, compress, condense, decrease, delete, drop, eliminate, eradicate, excise, hone, lop, pare, prune, reduce, remove, revise, rewrite, sharpen, slash, streamline, tighten, trim, whittle. … Two dozen words to remind us that we almost always write too many words.”
— Theodore A. Rees Cheney, author of Getting the Words Right: How to Revise, Edit, and Rewrite

“The most important tool of the theoretical physicist is his wastebasket.”
— Albert Einstein, Nobel Prize-winning physicist

“When you’ve got a thing to say,
Say it! Don’t take half a day …
Life is short — a fleeting vapor —
Don’t you fill the whole blamed paper
With a tale, which at a pinch,
Could be covered in an inch!
Boil her down until she simmers,
Polish her until she glimmers.”
— Joel Chandler Harris, journalist and author of the Uncle Remus stories

“I like density, not volume.”
— Maureen Howard, American writer

“In the spring of my senior year at Lisbon High … I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: ‘Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%. Good luck.”
“Even today, I will aim for a second-draft length of thirty-six hundred words if the draft of a novel runs three hundred and fifty thousand words, I’ll try my damndest to produce a second draft of no more than three hundred and fifteen thousand…three hundred, if possible. Usually it is possible. What the Formula taught me is that every story and novel is collapsible to some degree.”
— Stephen King, prolific novelist, in On Writing

“I try to leave out the parts people skip.”
— Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty and 39 other novels

“The struggle is against words, words, words.”
— Samuel Menashe, New York poet

“Most writers, when ordered to write short, make the mistake of writing the garbage compactor story, compressing everything in the notebook into a hard, indigestible pellet of news.”
— Donald M. Murray, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Writing to Deadline

“The greatest artist is the simplifier.”
— Donald M. Murray, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Writing to Deadline

“[Editing] is trying to fit ten pounds of shite into a five-pound bag.”
— John Nolan, newspaper editor

“The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend.”
— Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nobel Prize-winning author

“There is but one art, to omit. Oh, if I knew how to omit I would ask no other knowledge. A man who knows how to omit would make an Iliad of a daily newspaper.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish author

“Omit needless words.”
— William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style

“The difference between a book that used to be 400 pages and is now 200 pages and a book that has always been 200 pages is that the other 200 pages are still there, only you can’t see them.”
— Elie Weisel, Nobel Peace Prize-winning novelist and political activist, quoted by Chip Scanlan in Chip on Your Shoulder

“I recall a classic critique of a two-line poem: ‘It’s nice, though there are dull stretches.’”
— Alan Weiss, principle, Summit Consulting
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