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Lee Garrett

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That Which Does Not Kill Us...
by Lee Garrett   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, April 02, 2005
Posted: Saturday, April 02, 2005

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Editing as an act of self mutilation.


     When I decided to write a 1,500 word submission for a Writer's Digest contest, I was used to crafting longer or shorter works.  That particular length was a challenge to me.  I wrote a 1,800 word story called "Ghost Warrior", but it was 300 words too long.  Since I knew stories over the contest length would be discarded unread, I had to be merciless with my editing to get the work to fit.  Even then it didn't win (I was robbed!) But as they say, that which does not kill us, makes us stronger. 
     I edited to simplify sentences, and lost many things I liked, but which didn't really advance the plot.  Somehow, when I was done, I had a very lean wolf on my hands, staring hungrily back at me.  The story came in just under 1,500.  And reading the new version with a dispassionate eye, I had to admit that the lean bare-bones story had more power and actually read a whole lot better. 
     The point is this: There's always a lot more needing to be left out of stories than a writer is comfortable with cutting.  In Shakespear's "Romeo and Juliet", one of Romeo's dying kinsmen says; "Yea, though the wound is ne'er as deep as a well nor wide as a church door, 'tis enough!" IF THE PROCESS DOESN"T HURT A LITTLE, YOU HAVEN"T DONE IT RIGHT.  It's not enough.
     When a newspaper reporter turns in a story to his editor, the guy takes a "blue pencil" and draws a line through every unneeded word.  Journalistic articles are downright anorexic.  Fiction writers don't have to be as sparce, but this type of cutting teaches them a valuable skill.  That's why some of the best fiction writers are ex-newspaper men.  
     Purple prose exists because a writer is someone who believes that every word is gold and precious beyond belief.  Sadly, this is not so.  This love an artist has for their work is part of who we all are.  It's why there's always the "official"  version of a movie--and then the director's cut, where he sweeps everything up from the cutting room floor to save in a "director's cut".  Sometimes, the director is right about the full vision he wants to bring.  But usually, he's a little too close to the project for the best discrimination.   
     It's why no matter how much I edit a fresh work, if I put it aside for months, or come back to a story a year later and reread it, I see all kinds of things needing to be changed.  TIME IS PERSPECTIVE.  Sometimes the heat of creative energy needs to cool after completion before its best version of a story can be hewn out. 
     My friends, a good writer is one who knows when he or she must "bite the bullet" and be very strict in the editing process.  A writer's group can help us face the unpleasant truth that readers don't see what's in our heads, only what we get down in print.  Sometimes, we are not as clear or brilliant as we think we are being.  And it's always easier to edit other peoples stuff than your own.  
     Still, the end result is worth the agony.  Don't give until it hurts--don't give and let it hurt a lot.  It will make you a better writer.
  

Web Site: Lee Garrett


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Reviewed by Gwen Dickerson
Ooops! I almost missed this "lesson." I've got to come to class regularly! I can't afford to miss any of these valuable, yet free, lessons. Hahaha! You're right about editing. I've written works and have decided that they were "great", only to re-read them later and immediately see un-needed "fat." Yet, often, I don't want to edit it simply because I like the particular word or phrase. Good article, Lee.
Reviewed by Mary Quire
Very informative. It's true, we are sometimes our own worst critics, even if we let a work sit for a while.

M.Rose
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