Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

‘Writing Is Selection’: John McPhee on the Art of Omission

Leaving things out is something a writer learns…

There’s a quote in today’s re-blog that I really like:

“If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

Happy reading :-)


Writing is selection. Just to start a piece of writing you have to choose one word and only one from more than a million in the language. Now keep going. What is your next word? Your next sentence, paragraph, section, chapter? Your next ball of fact. You select what goes in and you decide what stays out. At base you have only one criterion: If something interests you, it goes in—if not, it stays out. That’s a crude way to assess things, but it’s all you’ve got.

-John McPhee, writing in the The New Yorker, on the art of “greening,” or whittling down your writing, and deciding what to leave out.

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2 responses to “‘Writing Is Selection’: John McPhee on the Art of Omission

  1. Jane Watson February 13, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    This is one of the best articles I have ever read on the writer leaving things out. I have always thought that what was implied in a piece of writing, but not stated, was more powerful for the reader than what was stated explicitly. Hemingway’s description of icebergs, excerpted from “Death In the Afternoon” is wonderful.


  2. Alexander M Zoltai February 13, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    Glad you enjoyed the article so much, Jane :-)


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