5 Ways I’ve Used Minimalism to Improve my Writing

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My Instagram posts

Instagram: Poetry Unfiltered

Every Saturday and Sunday, I publish a “Post-It-sized” poem on Instagram. I used to feel that I had to make each poem “pop” with the use of filters until I realized that such was unnecessary. I could feel the seconds being wasted, trying to come up with just the right filter, so I started screenshotting my poem with my phone via Google Docs and publishing it as is with the hashtag #nofilter. I realized there is a certain beauty in stark white and bold black. Coming up with appropriate hashtags take enough of my time.

Images are (Almost) Everything

Because I blog a minimum of twice weekly, it helps to recycle images, especially with my recurring features: Micropoetry Mondays and Fiction Fridays. For Monday, if my theme is “The Lighter Side” or “Opposites,” I use the same graphic; eventually, I will design my own logo for Micropoetry Monday, so I can ditch the stock photography all together (I’ve already scrubbed my blog of most of it). Because Fiction Fridays are all excerpts from my book or poetry based on it, I use the same graphic. Even when it comes to LinkedIn, rather than using a stock photo, I use my business card in basic black and plain white (without my personal address or telephone number) and an eye-grabbing headline. However, since I’ve discovered the Medium Daily Digest’s publishing platform (https://medium.com/), which is lot more attractive than LinkedIn’s (and not about boring corporate culture), I use an abstract photo—usually a close-up of something loosely related to the quotation I paste over it.  (And my quotes are always original.  There is enough recycled content out there.)

Strunk and White + Stephen King = Needful words

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is one grammar book that changed my writing (and maybe my life). It is what I call a hornbook for all writers. I applied its principles to my writing when I worked for my community college newspaper for several semesters, which helped me with conciseness (though I would still try to sneak in the Oxford comma). In On Writing by Stephen King, King says to “Kill your darlings”; I say you have to kill your characters (meaning the alphabet kind). Writing also helped me chuck 99% of my adverbs; nothing beats “he said” or “she said.” You want those dialogue tags to be invisible. I credit these two books and my experience as a student reporter in helping me get the job as a clarity editor for Grammarly.

Social media < Writing, Editing, Submitting

When I started my blog in October 2013, I thought I had to be as omnipresent as possible when it came to social media, but, after an incredible amount of spam I received on Twitter and people following just to get a follow, I ditched it and Pinterest, too. Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and LinkedIn is enough for me. (Often, what I post in one place gets posted in another). What time I used to spend trying to brand myself on all those social media accounts I could be spending building my vocabulary, submitting to actual publications, etc. I don’t have time to engage with all my followers — I need readers who aren’t writers. After more than three years of posting my Wednesday and Poem-a-Day prompts (in April and November) for Writer’s Digest on their blog and mine, I realized it was time for me to move on, which simplified my writing life even more. I needed content I could write ahead of time, so I could schedule it to publish on my blog at a later date. 

Submissions: Kitchen-Sink Theory Does Not Apply

I used to think I had to flood the market with submissions rather than focus on a handful of publishers. Targeting your publications gives you time to read and study them; submission guidelines alone will not provide intuition into what the editors are looking for. I have since discovered that my work would not be considered literary, so most small presses would not be a good fit; I have a better shot at larger publishers because of their more mainstream content. If I pick up a journal and don’t “get” any of the poems, then it’s the wrong publication for me; if I pick up a magazine and don’t enjoy any of the stories, then it’s not a good fit for my writing. This keeps me from being overwhelmed with reading material.

Book Review: Writing Down the Bones

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Though I like the narrative of Stephen King’s On Writing better (i.e. more concrete, less abstract), this book had many more plusses than minuses. The title fits because Goldberg takes a page from Strunk and White’s advice to “omit needless words,” not burdening hers with excessive description or detail (just a handful of unnecessary quotes). Though I checked this out from the library, I will end up purchasing it, so I can go through it with my highlighter, as I cannot possibly remember all the wonderful little tidbits.

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Goldberg wrote in a non-academic way, which I appreciated, as well as the fact that the creatively-titled chapters were short. I don’t often get a chance to read till the end of the day in bed because I spend the day working on my own writing, so short chapters make it easy to find a stopping place.

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Though I realize all writers have different experiences when it comes to their craft, I’ve never heard an imaginary voice telling me that I shouldn’t be a writer. Writing has always been the one thing I’m sure of. In fact, I am more likely to think something is good when it isn’t (which I figure it out a year later when I go back and reread some of my old blog posts).

If I had to choose my favorite takeaway from this book, it was making “verb columns” (page 95-97). It was such a fresh and innovative idea to make verbs pop.

Conversely, I found the excessive references to Katagiri Roshi distracting (and somewhat annoying, as it felt like proselytizing), especially since most of the quotes didn’t seem to flow into the narrative.

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Being a huge fan of humor, I appreciated the hilarious list about why one writes (page 122). This is what Goldberg is good at—writing short. Maybe because Goldberg is a poet and not a storyteller. I consider myself the opposite. (Even my poetry tells a story.)

Through reading books from authors who fictional works I don’t particularly enjoy, I’ve discovered that we can learn not only from experimenting with all kinds of writing but how to write from all kinds of writers.