The Importance of White Space by James R. Coggins

In my many years in publishing (books and magazines), one of the first lessons I learned was the importance of white space.

White space is the space on a page where there is no print (and no illustrations). An environmentalist or an overzealous accountant might say that white space is a waste. Why not fill up the space with print? Wouldn’t that be a more efficient use of paper?

The answer is that white space is vital because it makes the book or magazine more readable. That is why a considerable space (an inch or so) is left around the edge of the page. And that is why a new chapter in a book starts on a new page, often a righthand page, which sometimes leaves the lefthand page completely blank. And why the new chapter starts partway down the page with a space left at the top. And why a large enough font (type size, maybe 12-point) is chosen, with reasonable “leading” (space) between words and lines.

White space is vital because without it, the reader feels squeezed and pressured. Reading becomes hard, unrelenting work, with no chance to breathe. White space is as vital in reading as rests are in music. They create separations and maintain rhythm. It is necessary to breathe out as well as in.

White space is as vital as rests in music—and rests in life. That is why God set aside the night for sleeping. And the seventh day as a Sabbath, a day of rest. And the seventh year as a time to let the fields in the Promised Land lie fallow.

Work is important (there are six days for that), but so are times to rest. An efficiency expert or a workaholic might think rests are unproductive, but they are what allow other times to be productive. Rests allow us to stand back and gain perspective. I have an acquaintance who beats herself up whenever she has a day when she doesn’t get much work done. She is still learning that sometimes we just have a letdown and need to lie fallow, unable to work.

I have another friend who was highly productive. Besides a full-time job, he was on many committees, chairing most of them. If something needed doing, he volunteered to do it. If he was asked if he had time to take on one more task, he would say yes. He had the time. But he didn’t have the energy. One day, he could not take any more and collapsed with a nervous breakdown. He was never again able to carry a full workload.

Psalm 127:2 (NIV) says, “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he [God] grants sleep to those he loves.” An alternative reading is: “He provides for those he loves while they sleep.”

About jrcoggins

James R. Coggins is a professional writer and editor based in British Columbia, Canada. He wrote his first novel in high school, but, fortunately for his later reputation as a writer, it was never published. He briefly served as a Christian magazine editor (for just over 20 years). He has written everything from scholarly and encyclopedia articles to jokes in Reader’s Digest (the jokes paid better). His six and a half published books include four John Smyth murder mysteries and one other, stand-alone novel. In his spare time, he operates Mill Lake Books, a small publishing imprint. His website is
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