Sunday, September 13, 2009

Life Lessons...Less Is More

We welcome your comments & suggestions. This new feature "Life Lessons" now appears weekly... If you have a Life Lesson topic you'd like to post, please email us at

Less Is More
by Tracy Chevalier

Twelve years ago I left a job in publishing to do an MA in creative writing. My boss, Daniel - a fine editor who taught me everything I know about fixing bad writing - gave me as a farewell present an eraser inscribed with the famous dictum by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: LESS IS MORE. At the time I thought he was simply being witty, but in retrospect he couldn't have been more prescient if he had thrust a Vermeer painting in my arms and said, "Here, write about this - and keep it simple!"

Simplicity is a virtue that comes with experience. When I look back on early writing attempts, I cringe at my wordiness: the unnecessary adverbs, the elaborate synonyms for said (exhorted, anyone?), the tortuous formal sentence structures. As an editor I began to apply the less is more approach to others' writing, muttering to myself, "When in doubt, cut it out," as I wielded my red pen.

But it was really only when I wrote the novel Girl With a Pearl Earring and decided to try to imitate Vermeer's painting technique with words that I incorporated spareness into my own style. A poet friend helped, looking at my sentences and showing me how many words were unnecessary and could be discarded without losing meaning. It's surprising how little you need to tell a story. Vermeer painted many of his works in the same corner of the same room and he managed to reveal a whole world in that corner. I too discovered that simplicity doesn't mean a story is less complex

Ove the years I have applied "Less is More" to other parts of my life too. I wear less jewelry now - earrings or neclace, not both. I use tinted lip balm rather than lipstick and apply mascara only to my upper lashes. I avoid patterns in clothes. I listen to sonatas more often than to symphonies.

Sometimes I'll read a particularly baroque sentence in a novel and say to myself, I wish I could do that - rather the way a woman accustomed to wearing Armani might wonder whether she could pull off a Versace moment. But I know what's best for me - I've applied Daniel's eraser to my writing and to my life and it has made all the difference.

repost from American Elle: "The Most Important Thing I've Learned"
Image: 'Beckoning' by Mike Pedersen


OliveStreetStudio said...

oooo I'm trying....I'm trying....paring down on 'stuff' is our first step...

AlyGatr said...

Yes, yes and yes! I have trouble with less...but keep trying!

♥Aubrey said...


Bella said...

Definitely agree... "When in doubt, cut it out,"

This new Life Sessons Feature was an amazing read. Can't wait for more! xxx

zupu said...

I usually believe less is more but I'm rather overdressed than underdressed.. I still dress quite classic pieces, loving clean lines but also lace, adoring black in clothes but loving dramatic make-up.. The most important thing in everything (not just in dressing) is not to make it seem messy and keeping it elegant :) Buon weekend bella!

jewellery trends said...

Your blog is fabulous...We are big fans- great style of writing :)