What makes writing work? My journalism professors would tell you it comes down to using five words where someone else might use twenty. Just as importantly it is, of course, about picking each word carefully, no matter the number you use. It is said Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a short story in six words. While it may or may not have happened, in a play about his life Hemingway takes the challenge by offering this: For sale: Baby shoes, never worn. A beginning, middle and end, plus a tug on your emotions. Point made, no matter the origin of the story.
While volumes have been written on exceptional writing and classes are available in every corner of the world to help make you better, my focus for now is on the use of a writing tool you may have never considered.
When you are thinking about the experience the reader is having, giving more serious attention to white space can make a substantial difference. Recently I was given an assignment by a client to refine a critical piece of writing. A draft had been assembled and the words covered the basics. When I took that material and reworked it, one of the biggest differences came in use of white space. Think of it this way: if you are asking the reader to take in difficult or challenging information, give them a break. Let them rest after a few sentences, process it, and then move on to the next point.
White space does just that.
Take a hint from conversation. If you are hoping the person you are speaking with will really understand your point, you give them a chance to absorb what you are saying – you don’t bombard them with a non-stop barrage of ideas and thoughts. You create ‘white space’ in a good conversation.
If you receive an email that is one giant block of copy you may just move on without even reading it because it simply looks too daunting for the limited time you are ready to invest. (You probably have dozens of examples sitting in your in-box right now!) On the other hand, if there are bite size sentences offering concise ideas you may take the time to dive in and read further.
In the art world the same truth exists. An actor’s pause between lines. A painter’s wide open perspective when capturing nature’s majesty. The singer who waits for an extra beat to build the audience’s anticipation. Each would be demonstrating something we need when we sit down to write.