Creative Subtraction and My Red Pencil

Last week I shared how creativity is like math. We subtract things and we add things when we are being creative.

This week I’m considering how to apply subtraction to your life in general, not just your creativity.

It seems like there’s always something we can add to our lives. There’s so much possibility and potential wrapped up in our choices to add this or that. We spend years accumulating stuff or doing things because we always have.

Sometimes it’s easy to differentiate between what should and what could be subtracted. Other times it takes time and effort to decide what to remove.

minus-button-hiSubtraction is about getting to the heart of what’s important and meaningful and eliminating the rest.

Why is subtraction important?

  1. By identifying where we are and what we’re doing we can make decisions about what is robbing our time and our energy.
  2. We can eliminate things like thoughts, outdated methods, stuff that we hang on to that doesn’t help move us forward.
  3. We can investigate new additions that will improve our creative process.

I have a red pencil to subtract the things that don’t really matter in my writing. It’s a remnant from my schoolteacher days and a reminder of the time I spent grading papers. These days I use my red pencil to take away words, sentences, whole chapters without losing what I most want to say.

Sometimes our subtracting requires a literal red pencil. Other times the red pencil is metaphoric. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean…

  • The noise of the internet – twitterfacebookblogslivesphotoswords – can be become overwhelming at times. A time and energy suck. Applying the imaginary red pencil in my head, I log-out and redirect my attention to what’s important for my writing and my life.
  • Then there are projects and invitations. Usually worthy, but there are only so many hours in the day and so much energy to expend. I examine the pros and cons of each project or invitation based on my schedule and current workload. My red pencil draws a line through ones with more cons than pros so I have time for what’s important in my life and my writing.

If the idea of subtraction is new to you, consider starting small. Try removing just one thing – one word from a sentence, one DIY project, one item of clothing from your overstuffed closet, one piece of furniture – and see what happens. The results can be monumental in re-framing the way you see and feel and create.

Check these links for more ways to subtract in your life:

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