Friday, September 30, 2016
The Values of Good Editing
When writing, I've always preferred to pour out all my random thoughts on the topic then edit down to a tighter, cohesive narrative. Before computers allowed me to drag, drop, and delete items at will, I employed an old screenwriters' trick using 3 x 5 index cards. Each thought was written on its own card, then cards were shuffled and swapped around until my story found a pleasing flow. Once that outline was in place, I would get to work fleshing out the little details and bits of color that made it interesting while also getting rid of things that no longer worked.
I realize this technique isn't unique to me. However, what's painfully obvious is the number of people who release their thoughts to the world immediately after the initial pouring out stage. They skip, or find unnecessary, the all important next step of editing out the superfluous. As a lover of the well-turned phrase, rare word, or even a tidy absence of grammatical errors, it's easy for me to find fault. I'll go so far as to admit to some harsh judgment on my part.
Imagine my discomfort then to find a good edit was called for in my own back yard. Literally. And no, I'm not using literally when I mean figuratively. It's actually the garden behind my house, that planted collection visible from my back door, that's in need of editing. For years I've been plopping plants into the soil anywhere I found a space big enough to handle one more rootball. After one too many mild winters collided with an increasing amount of sheer horticultural luck, those green chickens have come home to roost. It's clearly time to drag, drop, dig up, and delete.
A recent visit to my friend Pam Penick's garden was a delightful reminder of the importance of inspired design and the value of blank space. Her garden features many of the same plants I grow, but there is clearly a design at work, a strong outline. Plants are visible, not swallowed by a neighbor in some botanical version of a doomsday novel. They shine in their chosen placement, not merely bear up under their circumstances like a Dickens character. Small unplanted spaces provide restful punctuation and framing. And on more than one occasion, I've heard Pam say a plant was removed (gasp!) when it failed in the larger design narrative. Wow.
So here is my commitment. I will step back and employ my inner editor. She will be harsh and at times severe. Hopefully, she will improve the story I'm trying to tell by clearing out that which no longer serves it.