SHORT CUTS -- by Jane Kelley

Can you take a short cut?

No. There aren't any.

Sorry. You've got to write each word. You've got to rewrite most of those words. You must start at the beginning, slog through the mushy middle, and conquer the climax before you reach the end of your story. It's word by word, or Bird by Bird, as Anne Lamott wrote in her stupendous book.

Should you take a short cut?

Absolutely. In fact, you must.

Writing word by word doesn't mean that you must describe in intricate detail every moment of your hero's life. Choosing when to linger and when to jump ahead is one of the most important decisions a writer must make. In her book, Steering the Craft, Ursula K. Le Guin calls those choices "crowding and leaping."

Sometimes, as she says, we need to keep our stories "crowded with sensations, meanings, and implications." To do that, you can't rush through those moments. Leaping is different. "What you leave out is infinitely more important than what you put in.

A narrative is a journey which is best experienced at different speeds. Sometimes you walk through the village. You might even need to slither through a field on your belly. Sometimes you should pick up the pace--ride in a car or maybe zoom in a jet. And sometimes you should take advantage of a tesseract and bend the space-time continuum to get to those deliciously crowded parts.

Will you take a short cut?

My dad always did. He always thought he could find a better way to get where he was going. He hated the conventional route. Those were the days before an automated voice told you when and where to turn. Since he was making his own path, we never knew where we would end up. Once we were visiting family in Indiana and somehow or other ended up in Michigan. "Dad!" we teased him mercilessly. Now I see that journey as testament to his creative spirit.

To sum it up:  I don't cut corners. I skip the dull parts. I seek out any trail that leads where I might want to go---even though it's rarely the most efficient route.

My husband and I found this sign while hiking in Vermont.
Did we take it? You bet!


  1. Love the so many signs in Vermont, it suggests more than directs you anywhere.

  2. Interesting post. I'm not a writer though a blogger who use MG and YA novels to teach 8th grade American history instead of boring texts and my boring lectures. They loved stories and a few of my very own...:)

    1. History is story. I'm glad you're bringing the past to life!

  3. Love the distinction between cutting corners and getting to the good stuff.


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