Creative Subtraction and My Red Pencil

Last week I shared how creativity is like math. We subtract things and we add things when we are being creative.

This week I’m considering how to apply subtraction to your life in general, not just your creativity.

It seems like there’s always something we can add to our lives. There’s so much possibility and potential wrapped up in our choices to add this or that. We spend years accumulating stuff or doing things because we always have.

Sometimes it’s easy to differentiate between what should and what could be subtracted. Other times it takes time and effort to decide what to remove.

minus-button-hiSubtraction is about getting to the heart of what’s important and meaningful and eliminating the rest.

Why is subtraction important?

  1. By identifying where we are and what we’re doing we can make decisions about what is robbing our time and our energy.
  2. We can eliminate things like thoughts, outdated methods, stuff that we hang on to that doesn’t help move us forward.
  3. We can investigate new additions that will improve our creative process.

I have a red pencil to subtract the things that don’t really matter in my writing. It’s a remnant from my schoolteacher days and a reminder of the time I spent grading papers. These days I use my red pencil to take away words, sentences, whole chapters without losing what I most want to say.

Sometimes our subtracting requires a literal red pencil. Other times the red pencil is metaphoric. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean…

  • The noise of the internet – twitterfacebookblogslivesphotoswords – can be become overwhelming at times. A time and energy suck. Applying the imaginary red pencil in my head, I log-out and redirect my attention to what’s important for my writing and my life.
  • Then there are projects and invitations. Usually worthy, but there are only so many hours in the day and so much energy to expend. I examine the pros and cons of each project or invitation based on my schedule and current workload. My red pencil draws a line through ones with more cons than pros so I have time for what’s important in my life and my writing.

If the idea of subtraction is new to you, consider starting small. Try removing just one thing – one word from a sentence, one DIY project, one item of clothing from your overstuffed closet, one piece of furniture – and see what happens. The results can be monumental in re-framing the way you see and feel and create.

Check these links for more ways to subtract in your life:

Feathers from Heaven

By Guest Blogger Chicken Wrangler Sara

As I was walking back to the chicken yard last week a feather fell from the sky. It was quite small and very white. In fact, if it were colder outside I might have mistaken it for a snowflake.

I stood still for a minute to see if more were forthcoming. Or perhaps an entire bird was soon to follow. That would be one way to increase our flock.

Neither of these things happened. I picked the feather up and put it in my pocket thus confirming that it was not a snowflake.feather

I remember as a child taking walks with my grandfather around the lake near their apartment in Austin. One time I picked up a feather. This one was not white and was much larger. My grandfather put it in his Bible where it remained until his death.

As life gets more hectic and being a grownup becomes harder, it was nice to reconnect with a childhood pastime of picking up feathers. Perhaps I should keep this little white feather in my Bible for when I feel childish.

Grateful for Today

Today federal income taxes are due. Most of us are probably not feeling particularly grateful.

But today is more. Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, describes today this way:

You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today…. It’s the only gift that you have right now. And the only appropriate response is gratefulness.

Instead of dwelling on taxes,  we should recognize the precious gift of today and observe and experience what we’ve been given to enjoy.

~the natural beauty surrounding us

~the interesting people we encounter

~the sound of laughter

~the simple beating of our heart

So many miracles — if we only pause to appreciate and be grateful.

Lindberg quote







Adding and Subtracting for Creativity

creative brainCreativity is a way of thinking, a way of viewing the world, and we all have slightly different ways we create.

Austin Kleon in his book How to Steal Like an Artist suggests:
“Creativity isn’t just the things we chose to put in, it’s also the things we chose to leave out.”

Sounds a lot like math to me.

Put something in = adding; leave something out =subtracting.

Some creative people start with nothing and add piece by piece until a final work is complete.

The opposite of addition is subtraction. Being creative by subtraction means you begin with a great mass of stuff, then the chip away, removing little by little until the final work is revealed underneath.

Examples of creation by addition

• Musicians and composers begin with a single melody line, beat, or sample and build layers until the piece of music is complete.

• Weavers begin with an idea or design, and then weave thread by thread, color by color, layer by layer until the finished tapestry emerges.

• Poets and writers may write one or two lines at a time, adding slowly, each word carefully chosen and placed in the correct position and sequence and complementing what’s been put there before.

Examples of creation by subtraction

• Archaeologists have a vague idea of what’s buried where they chose to dig, but they delicately, systematically remove the earth and debris to uncover the treasures.

• Sculptors start with a chunk of their chosen medium, stone or wood for example, then chip away gradually until the sculpture emerges.

• Fiction Editors begin with a completed manuscript, and then slowly remove the excess and weak parts to expose a great novel.

Most creative types probably use a combination process of adding and subtracting.

When I’m writing, I start with a premise or theme and add from that. Words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters build until I have a completed novel.

Other times I use subtraction, more correctly called editing, not creating. However, I am taking a whole manuscript and chiseling away to create a finished product.

What about you? Which do you use most adding or subtracting in your creative process? Do you think experimenting in the opposite way would expand or improve your creativity?

Spreading Her Wings

by Guest Blogger Chicken Wrangler Sara

I looked out the window last week and discovered one of the chickens on top of the shed.

onThis was a new trick so I snapped a picture from the back patio. Then I cautiously walked to the coop to try to coax the bird down on the correct side of the fence.

offFortunately I was successful.

Later in the week I discovered the same bird in the yard next door. She was enjoying the lush, green grass.

I thought about retrieving her but that meant walking all the way around the front of the house and through the neighbor’s gate.Or I could jump the fence.

I decided to go inside and pretend I didn’t see anything.

I told Beekeeper Brian we had a wandering chicken. He assured me she would return at nightfall. He also suggested I clip her wings when she did.

Sure enough, when I went to close up the chickens, there she was. I clipped her wings, much to her dismay. When I left, she was trying to fly up to the top of the nest boxes to roost. She has remained on the ground in her chicken yard since then.

Now the gray bantam, however…..

Spring Work

Spring WorkThe sun is melting away the lingering snow. Chipmunks and squirrels are scampering in the woods behind our house. Birds are chirping. Grass is turning green.

Poppies are working their way through the soil in the front flower bed. The Aspen trees are budding.

Spring is indeed at work with joyful enthusiasm in our mountains.

The call to dig in the dirt instead of getting words on the page is great.

Are you feeling the twinges of Spring Fever?

Narcissist – do you know one?

The idea of narcissism comes from Greek mythology.

Salvador Dali - Narkissos' forvandling - 1936Narcissus, a beautiful youth, spurned the nymph Echo then fell in love with his own reflection in a spring. His reflection was unapproachable so Narcissus gradually perished and became the flower narcissus or daffodil.

The myth illustrates that if you are overly egotistic or care more about yourself than others, it can lead to bad things.

That’s my cliff note version. To read the full story click here.

We’ve all met narcissistic people. People with an inordinate fascination with themselves and who make excessive reference to themselves and their accomplishments in conversation or writing.

Life is all about them and they let you know.

What surprises (and doesn’t surprise me) is the fact that narcissism is on the rise in the U.S. according to Dr. Kelly Neff.

Has social media contributed to this rise? Think about it, doesn’t the very idea of a “selfie” imply a degree of narcissism. Methinks it does.

Dr. Neff talks about the correlation in her article, 7 Things You Need to Know About Narcissists, From A Psychologist’s Perspective

We all exhibit narcissistic traits from time-to-time. It’s called positive self-esteem and self-esteem is not a bad thing.

However, dealing with a true narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can drain your energy. They are manipulative and skilled at getting what they want out of people.

If you’re not sure someone you know is a true narcissist, watch for these other characteristics:

  1. Exaggerating their abilities and achievements
  2. Constant need for attention, affirmation and praise
  3. A strong sense of entitlement
  4. An expectation of special treatment

If you have a narcissist in your life (like I do), check out these two articles:

How to Deal With A Narcissist and Dealing with a Narcissist

daffodilPersonally, I’m going to be positive and picture in my head the flower that Narcissus became  whenever I encounter my narcissist.

Or maybe I’ll model a character in my next book after the narcissist culprit in my life then kill him off.

That’s one of the perks of being a writer.