Canada Writes·Writing Tip

Want to be a better writer? Be a ruthless editor

CBC Books regularly publishes writing tips.
The CBC Short Story Prize is open until Oct. 31, 2019. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

This writing tip is from Kasia Juno.

"For a writer, avoiding boring sentences is the task of a lifetime. One strategy to avoid boredom is to pare down your prose, to make your writing as exacting and urgent as possible. Gordon Lish, who was Raymond Carver's editor for many years, is famous for taking this method to its extreme. Lish's piranha-like editing technique teaches us that texts have many hidden lives, depending on what is included, what is emphasized, what is left out. Try this Lish-inspired editing exercise:

  • First, cut 100 words out of the story.
  • Then 200.
  • Now, get rid of a third of the story's word count.

"If this sounds hostile, it's because it is. Be hostile. Lash — or rather, Lish — at your prose. You can always put the words back."

Kasia Juno is a Montreal-based writer and PhD student. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in The Best Canadian Poetry Anthology, The Rumpus, The Puritan and Maisonneuve Magazine, among others. She received the 2009 Quebec Writers' Federation Short Story Prize and was a finalist for the 3Macs carte blanche Prize in 2017. Her story The Peninsula of Happiness made the 2017 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist.

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