Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Create White Space


You walk into a bookstore, looking for just the right read. A cover blurb here, a dust-jacket there, an inviting display table—they catch your attention, and you thumb through some pages. Best-selling hardcovers, a rack of new paperbacks, an author you like, your book-club selection. How do you choose? Do you read a random chapter? Start at the beginning? Check the number of pages?

I pick a book based on it's white space. I'm not enticed by pages jam-packed with unrelieved words. Long, mind-numbing paragraphs invite skimming, and tiny margins scream "boring." White space suggests dialogue, characters, time to breathe and enjoy the story, or helpful sub-chapters and room to examine the facts. I like a built-in place to take a cocoa break and turn a book upside down for the night.

Some wisdom I picked up from the Blogging Zen panel was that real life needs some white space, too. Marta said she's had to choose between being a good blog reader and a good blog writer. Destri said she limits her facebook time to once a week. Susan's business has taken off, and that's where she focuses her efforts. These productive women have learned to prioritize.

When I was a young mom, the modern motto was "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan . . ." implying that a woman could have it all, be it all and do it all. There was a built-in shame factor to that thinking. I assumed there was something wrong with me because I couldn't handle it all; I was embarrassed by my deficiency. So I put a lot of energy into appearing to be as capable as I thought everyone else was. Eventually I was just skimming all those long, unfocused paragraphs, missing the meaning of my story. I needn't some white space.

Wise editing makes a book readable. If a writer stuffed the pages with every locale, adventure, romance, or thrill she thought up, it would be an overwhelming fantasy. Even the characters would be confused by the dialogue and the plot could unravel. Enlightened authors, of books or life stories, learn to create some white space.

10 comments:

Christie said...

Brilliant - I love it! I need to add some white space to my own life.

Heather of the EO said...

I truly love this. This had such an impact on me, it really did. Thank you.

Heather @ Alis Grave Nil said...

Once again, one of those posts where I read it and think--I knew that, only I didn't know that I knew it. I think I am learning it to be true in my own life as a mom--that having "free" time doesn't mean I should schedule something into it--but for books... yes. I just never thought to put it into words like that. I am exactly the same way. I'll try to embrace my white space today--I'm on summer vacation from teaching so there's plenty. I think it's beautiful how all that white space at home with kids gets turned into special time. Thanks for the post. :)

Soul-Fusion said...

Brilliant - this is advice I needed to read for my writing and my life. Thanks.

Sarah said...

I am trying to incorporate a little white space in my planner - time to ponder, sit, and relax. It gets harder as time goes on, but I think it becomes more important. I would rather do a few things well then many things mediocre.

Amy said...

I think I have been skimming for years. I have to figure out how to break that habit...

marta said...

so so right, oms. i definitely love the white space myself. speaking of books, i finally picked up The Help last night and read it into the wee hours. it was a DREAM to just read for fun again. what a treat it is to read. hope you're having fun with the wee ones today. thanks for this good reminder. xo.

kenju said...

I haven't called it that, but I've been looking for that for eons!!

Val and Eric said...

Thanks for the reassurance that it's okay to need that space (I need lots of it to be productive and loving). I often waste it feeling guilty for needing it.

Diane L said...

Amen. I wonder why it took me so long to figure that out mentally? I'm now trying to figure out how to accomplish it physically as well.