A Grin at the End: What you leave out … but don’t take out the soul

July 2021 Posted in Other

carl sampson

The key to good writing is what you leave out.

Too often, writing makes its way into the public circus without the benefit of editing, and it’s painful. The basic points may be there but they are crowded by half-baked thoughts and fictionalized versions of reality. Add a dash of ignorance about history – or science or math or politics – and the writer is often his, or her, own worst enemy.

That’s when a writer loses the battle for the heart and mind of the reader.

In 46 years as a writer and editor, I have also found that something else is missing from most writing. You could call it soul.

For a writer, it’s not just what you say. It’s how you say it. So much writing comes off as a recitation of events. What is said, and why, are lost.

A good editor can fix grammar, spelling and syntax, but cannot add soul.

I was listening to a country song this morning: Joshua Ray Walker’s Voices. It’s haunting, reflective, jarring, pleading. It’s words, but more. By the end of it, I had to remember to breathe.

It’s got soul.

So much of what is written these days is, to be polite, piffle. With social media, quantity has overtaken quality, of writing and of thought. It really is time to shut down Facebook, Twitter and all that other crap. They are enemies of us all. They are the Dumpsters of writing, filled with a slurry of made-up and self-aggrandizing posts that are embarrassing to the writers and to the readers. They are pitiful examples of non-thought and non-writing.

We can do better. We can write for good. We can make thoughtful observations. And I don’t only want to read stuff I agree with. I want to read well-written and thoughtful, fact-based points of view. I want to be inspired, challenged, pushed.

I also find writing is the best way to think things through. The best part: I can go back and edit my thoughts, change my mind – and cut things that I really didn’t mean.

It’s that last part, the cutting, that is most important. We’ve all read books that needed editing. They were too long, and the plot was lost in meandering prose. The writer needed a good editor, and a “delete” button.

But it’s soul that is also missing from so much writing, the sense of humanity over which the writer has total control.

You’ve probably read the letter Civil War soldier Sullivan Ballou wrote to his wife, Sarah, the week before he died on the battlefield. It is famous, not only because of that war but because it injected humanity into the discussion of its horrible reality. Here’s is a small part of it.

“Sarah, my love for you is deathless. It seems to bind me with mighty cables, that nothing but Omnipotence can break; and yet, my love of country comes over me like a strong wind, and bears me irresistibly on with all those chains,
to the battlefield…

“But, O Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth, and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you….If the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air cools your throbbing temples, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dear; think I am gone, and wait for me, for we shall meet again.”

That, my friends, is soul.

Carl Sampson is a freelance writer and editor. He lives in Stayton. His books are available at amazon.com.

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