Quote It! Robert Louis Stevenson

“There is but one art, to omit! Oh, if I knew how to omit I would ask no other knowledge.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, 19th century author, best known for his novels Treasure Island and Kidnapped.

You know my love for tight writing. I am convinced knowing what not to include is far more important than what you do include.

Therefore I was surprised to recently run across this great quote from Stevenson that I’d never seen before. (Thanks to author Anita Higman for bringing it to my attention!)

Writers: What’s your best tip for writing tight, or, as Stevenson would say, for omitting? Share in the comments.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line


7 thoughts on “Quote It! Robert Louis Stevenson

  1. What a great quote! After several drafts–when I think I’ve omitted all I can–I examine each paragraph with a last line of six or fewer words. Then I go into the paragraph and cut until I eliminate that last carriage return. Doesn’t always work, but it’s a place to start. After that draft, I usually let someone else see it. (Critique groups are great for this.) Another set of eyes is the best avenue to tight writing.

    • Yes, somewhat. But it is never too early to learn how to omit. Better if you can do it before you write, or as you write, rather than after you have written. Still, I do agree that more than half of the battle is simply getting words down.

      • True. But for now? One focus at a time, word after word until I get my first manuscipt finished. The learning that’ll come with that will be spectacular enough that I’d drown if I tried anymore than that.

  2. I think a lot of it is being able to switch to your left brain. Your right brain sees how pretty your words are. Or clever. Maybe even profound. Your left brain is more ruthless. It doesn’t care if you found the perfect metaphor or have a knack for alliteration. And it isn’t afraid to ask the question: “Can I get the point across in fewer words?” Your drill sergeant left brain doesn’t have a problem “killing your darlings.”

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