I still have a few notes left from the Festival.This comes from the conversation-style session with Rob Bell one afternoon near the end of the Festival. If you’re interested, I found an interview of Bell online that had a few similar thoughts, but it’s dated. I think based on some of his answers in that article that he’s evolved as a creative artist-preacher-writer, having written more books, preached a few hundred more messages, and made those NOOMA videos.I’m sure he’d be relieved to see that evolution of his own thoughts–he doesn’t seem to like the idea of remaining static.I wish I could offer you more than the few notes I jotted down.The session was facilitated by someone who seemed to be a friend of Bell’s, maybe someone from his church. The question-asker said, “Some people might not be familiar with your writing style, but it’s very distinctive, very spare. Sometimes you have just one-word paragraphs.”So Rob responded saying how he’ll buy a book with the text packed onto the page in a tiny font and hardly any margin, really dense, and he’ll think, “Wow, that’s a lot of words.”(gulp)He said, “Art is design by elimination. I don’t like things cluttered. Boil it down to the essence…If what I meant on this page were these two lines, well, then give them those two lines and get rid of everything else…We equate significant content with length…we must exercise unbelievable rhetoric discipline…You’ve got to move it along. It’s about honoring people’s time…Give the most significant content that can actually be accessed.”I know, I know.You saw my problem with brevity.It’s a little embarrassing to type out Bell’s advice for you when I’m staring at a manuscript that thuds.Fortunately, there’s still time to edit.Anyway, back to Bell. He said with his projects, like his NOOMA videos, for example, he starts with “one controlling idea” and sticks to that and only that.I wrote in the margin of my notebook that blog posts would benefit from this approach, as well. We can ask, as we compose, “What is the one controlling idea of this post?” If we stray from that idea, we cut. It’s a healthy discipline.The guy asked Bell about his inspiration. Bell answered, “For every two or three ideas, I need to have inhaled 100. I need to be exposed to tons and tons and tons of input, ideas, and perspectives.”The guy asked how he stores or organizes all of that, and Bell mentioned writing thoughts on 3×5 cards and collecting them over a long period of time. He had fun, he said, laying them all out on a massive work table, fitting them together, looking for the theme, the threads.He also mentioned carrying around a moleskin journal to jot things down. “It’s a small discipline,” he said, “to be hyper-aware; to be present, and then capture it.”Also, regarding inspiration, he said that he reads The Economist. I was surprised–since it’s rather dense and crams a lot of words onto the page with little margin–but pleased to know that we’re reading the same weekly news magazine. I don’t know if it will inform my writing in the same way that it does his, however.In conclusion, the question-asker guy asked, “What do you fear?”Bell answered, “My fears center around not risking. I fear resting on what worked in the past…I thrive on exploration and discovery.” He said he’s always looking to see what’s what’s around the corner.One of the last things he said was, “If you use the word ‘relevant,’ you aren’t.”Overall, I was most impressed by how he was instantly willing to let me take his picture with the “Hi Monica!” sign. He grinned big and squatted down on the stage so I could get a closer shot. I thought that was so great–that a guy who has so many places to go and people to see would be willing to do a small, silly thing.
Great entry, thank you for sharing it with us.
Those questions were great, I guess every writer ask themselves the same thing. I -like him- don’t like to write unnecessary words. Some people have suggested to beef up my manuscripts and I go over them again unable to add words just for the sake of having more pages on my books. Like he said, it is about honoring people’s time.
Monica- Paper Bridges says
it’s not silly or small to us! 😉
with so much information swirling around us: blogs, websites, books, newschannels, tv programs, the writer has to work harder for the attention of the reader. I know I do it as a reader: if it looks too long, I skim or skip it all together.
JanMary, N Ireland says
I heard him speak last year in Belfast, and really enjoyed his fresh approach and thinking.
Stretch Mark Mama says
I heart Rob Bell.
clary: Good for you to resist “padding” your work. Say what needs to be said and get out of there.
Monica: That is such a great point–we are awash with information and input. We must skim to survive. As writers, we must provide something of meaning in as few words as possible. So hard. But following that train of thought, that logic, I wonder why poets aren’t more popular?
JanMary: He was doing a tour–was it the one where he goes on stage and just talks, with no technology, for about an hour-and-a-half, and then walks off stage? Or was it more interactive?
Stretch Mark Mama: If I’d only known, I could have made a sign for you, as well, and asked for two shots. He might have done it! I could have had him just flip the paper over for yours….I’m sorry to have missed that opportunity to treat you to a personal message from Mr. Bell!
Thanks for sharing this. I have so much to learn when it comes to writing, but I am hoping to develop this gift in the days/years ahead…
– Jerry DePoy Jr.