The Power of the Edit

I should have listened to Harriet Wilson. Instead I fought her, she was not gracious about some high school punk sassing her, and it started a small war. The year was 1982 and I was a senior at South Eugene High School. Harriet Wilson was my AP English teacher and she was pissed. And rightfully so - at that age I was lazy, and probably rude. I loved writing, and reading of course, but as a teen those were not priorities for my attention, and it showed.

Harriet told me that my first drafts were crap. Utter crap. She also said that my second drafts were so much better it was like they were written by a different person, but she lost me at "crap". Like a defensive child I closed my ears and wrote her off as a b***. She might not have had the most charming teaching style, but she was totally right. I know that now. My first drafts are still crap. And my second ones are better, and my third ones are sometimes acceptable, but it often takes a fourth and fifth pass to make them what I want them to be. Duh. Turns out most writers have to heavily edit their work, hardly anyone can just write brilliantly straight out of the gate. Editors are a huge part of professional writers' careers, for a good reason. I have finally, at 50 years old, discovered the power of the edit. And I offer my sincere apologies to Harriet Wilson.

It took another learned woman to finally knock this once and for all into my head, although in a gentler fashion. Annie Tucker was my editor for Bridge of the Gods, and she taught me so much along the way. I was an eager learner this time around, finally mature enough to get on with things and not try to shoot the messenger, which only results in shooting oneself in the foot, as it turns out. Karma, anyone? It helped that when I started writing the book I had been an artist for decades, and learned early on that the ego only gets in the way of learning, and growing. You must be ready to kill those darlings - to not be precious about every little sketch, word, or note. I've found I've got to write a lot, and I mean a LOT - then scrap most of it and I'm left with the gems. Actually, it's kind of like a big spring clean of the house - purging and cleaning the corners makes you feel lighter, the more you purge and clean, the more things that are left can shine.

These days I am really trying to apply this concept to my personal life. Too often it is tempting to just react to things that provoke me. And just like in AP English class this un-edited approach backfires more than it succeeds. As Harriet said about my writing, my initial, knee-jerk reactions to life are as unlike my final consensus as to be from an entirely different person. And a knee-jerk reaction - whether in writing or in life - rarely brings good results. Through painful trial and error I have determined that for me it is CRUCIAL in maintaining healthy relationships and in properly expressing myself that I take the time to edit what I say or write. In the past I have fired off emails and facebook comments that are full of emotion, and although I do mean what I say, and what I say is valid, too much emotion can obscure the real message. A reactive delivery distracts people from the point, draws unwanted drama and trouble, and escalates the pain and suffering, further confusing the issue. Yikes! "How to make life harder than it needs to be".

Today's life hack: Initial restraint + focused thought + calm delivery = winning.

Turns out that editing is a far more important concept than I ever gave it credit for. I am beginning to think it's one of the keys to success, at everything! Always the late bloomer, I think this is might also be called "being an adult", lol. I'm adulting, as they say. Although Harriet would never approve of that word.