When Tracy Chevalier (author of Girl With a Pearl Earring and The Last Runaway) left a publishing job to get a master’s degree in creative writing, her boss gave her an eraser with the words “Less is more” written on it.
Her essay tells how she paid attention to the eraser and developed a spare, focused style by imitating Vermeer’s style. (It’s well worth studying a marked-up manuscript page from The Last Runaway that shows how she cuts every word possible.)
A poet friend taught me how to do it. He took a few pages I had written and went through each sentence, suggesting I cut this word, that word. It’s surprising how much flab there is in most writing. Now when I edit I ask that each word justify its place. The process is exhausting, but it works.
Taking away concentrates what’s left. Restraint is powerful. In Girl With a Pearl Earring, the two main characters touch just twice—a hand, an ear—but readers tell me those are some of the most erotic moments they’ve read.