A Short Lesson from a Special Pair of Hands

As writers we often hear the advice “less is more” or “show don’t tell”. But we have so many thoughts in our brains and so many words to choose from that it can be next to impossible to understand what this is supposed to mean or how to do it well. Ernest Hemingway is usually credited with being the master of the sparse, yet powerful, writing style. His shortest story was reputedly about baby shoes and was only six words long. I have a confession to make here. I don’t really love Hemingway, though I certainly admire his writing skill and work ethic. So I was beginning to despair of ever finding an inspiration for bare bones-style prose when one arrived in the most unlikely of places, a YouTube recording.

A fellow writer told our writing group about one of his favorite songs to listen to when he’s thinking about how to say a lot with only a little. He warned us that, though it was a short piece, it packed an emotional punch. “Grandma’s Hands” was written and sung by the talented Bill Withers. In the short, yet extremely compelling verses, he paints a picture of his elderly grandmother by recalling a few specific things she said to him as a child along with his memories of how her hands looked and what they did for him. By the end of the song, you not only have a vivid picture of the elderly lady in your mind, you also have an understanding of how much she meant to young Billy and how deeply the adult Bill continues to miss her. This to me, is writing at its very best and it’s what I’ll continue to strive for.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lAoFAhJJF7M

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