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  • Kristen Dorsey

Just The Essentials

My money is tight as a full-time student, but I really wanted to get a rest from classes over spring break--so I decided to pack up my car and go camping. Most of my friends had to work, so it would be just me and my longtime co-pilot, Aengus McKee, Lakeland Terrier Extraordinaire. We were going to keep it simple, taking just the essentials for a few days of relaxation.

I started to pack: tent, sleeping bag, cooler. Oh, wait: pillow, towel, backpack. Clothes, boots, flip-flops, dog bed, kibble, squeaky toys, paper towels, lanterns, plant ID book, hand sanitizer, books, laptop, journal, pencil, water, rain jacket, sweatshirt, bungees (so many uses!), camp chair….

By the time I loaded everything in my car, it was jammed full. All this for three days of camping. There was barely room for Aengus in the passenger seat. I stood there, looking at all that stuff, wondering how I got from just a few things to a car full of gear. Then, I wondered how I would get to anything in this mess?

Writing is like this for me, too, I realize. I have an idea for a story, and in my mind, it’s neat and tidy. But when the words hit the page, they seem to expand. By the time I reach the end, that short story has expanded to a novella.

Sometimes that’s fine. Perhaps I found that there was more to say than I thought. But more often, I notice that, just like my car full of camping gear, many of those words are not necessary. And the words, like my overstuffed car, just make the core stuff harder to find.

Trimming the excess for my camping trip was easy. Did I really need all this food for three days? Did Aengus need five toys? Trimming the fat from a story can be a bigger challenge.

The first thing I toss is the adverbs; most of them can go. Then, I check my sentence structure. Is there a more efficient way? I also check for elements that don’t contribute to my story’s main idea. This can be challenging for me, especially if I have written a few “diamonds.” Out they go. Finally, I look for good action verbs and adjectives that can be substituted for lengthy descriptions. Does the driveway have to be a long, curved, twisting gravel road or could it be a serpentine drive?

Trimming the fat in a piece of writing can be a tedious exercise, but like everything, it gets easier with practice. By the way, Aengus got to keep all five of his squeaky toys for the trip. Some things are non-negotiable.

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