Editing as an Act of Compassion

From Ray Bradbury’s book “Zen in the Art of Writing”.

Up until recently, editing for me was a process tinged with a feeling of “losing something” or of being a “bad writer,” especially when it came to cutting out more than half of my book.

I started thinking about how I feel while reading different books, blog posts, and articles.

There are some pieces of writing that make me want to run out and buy every book the author wrote, read or recommended. There are other pieces that lead me to feel foggy and confused, perhaps even before I’ve gotten all the way through them.

Which Writers Keep You Coming Back For More?

For me, it is not about genre or even content. It is about the writer’s ability to seamlessly take over my world. Their sentences go down smooth and easy. There is nothing out of place, nothing that demands extra effort. I am reading a finished product and yet I feel that I am just breathing, or walking into a room of my home that I never noticed. The hours of editing are invisible because they were successful.

The desirable writer is using more of their time in order to respect mine.

Every useless sentence that I cut from my book is another moment of someone’s life that I am refusing to waste. The reader is trusting me to distill the good stuff, and my goal is to not let them down.

From Tom Waits’ song called “Time.” Tori Amos does a great cover of it.

Coming To Terms

This is the hard part. If I want to make editing decisions based on the integrity of my writing and my reader’s time and energy, then there are a lot of mistaken notions to let go of. Some of them include:

  • I wasted my time writing this whole draft.
  • I am a crappy writer because, well, look at all this stuff I have to cut out!
  • This is nuts and I should keep it all because every sentence is valuable and the editing is making it worse.
  • At this rate, I will actually just never finish. Ever.

I know that these things are not true. In fact, it may even become easier to move forward with my book because now I have in my hand the knife that can chisel away at those useless sentences and cut the brilliant designs into the ones I do choose to keep.

My readers are important. I intend to respect their time just as much as I am respecting my words and experiences.

Is Editing Harder For Me Than For Others?

Maybe one part of the underlying cause for this issue is the fact that reading good writing feels like reading easy writing. “You make it look so easy!” is the phrase often said to those who have actually put thousands of hours of effort into their craft; whether it is writing, biking, running, spinning fire poi, or anything else.

We spend our lives reading good writing, thinking that the authors just spilled it out on the first try. It seems logical that our writing should be just as easy to create; just as effortless as we perceive theirs to be. In doing this, we are attempting to live in a fantasy world. Of course, we are writers, and living in our fantasy world is precisely what we are good at! But in this case, perhaps we are best off fessing up to reality. We can extract the most powerful components from our work and leave the rest behind so that we may inspire other potential writers to think it is easy and join us in this world where magic tricks are performed in the shadows of every paragraph.

All arts, big and small, are the elimination of waste motion in favor of the concise declaration.” – Ray Bradbury

What kind of writing keeps you coming back for more?

Do you have mistaken notions to let go of concerning editing for your blog or book?

How has your idea of editing changed throughout the course of working on your writing?

I am curious!

How Far is Too Far to Go For Your Readers?

Lately I have been tossing around ideas for my book, short stories, blog posts, and various other uses of the written word. I imagine that those of you who are writers, which is most of you, have been in this situation as well. I invite you to share your experiences and opinions.

To start with, I am not an NVC (Nonviolent Communication) expert. In all actuality, I have only used it minimally in my life. So if anyone knows more about it than me and wants to shine light on this situation with their knowledge, please, feel free. The language of “needs” is one that I am going to use here.

The Deal:

The way I see it, there are multiple purposes for each thing I write.

1. It is some kind of release for me (my emotional needs).

2. It may also have a financial component (my financial needs).

3. It is serving some purpose for others (the needs of others)

4. It is serving the purpose I want it to serve for others (my desire to meet their needs)

All of these things matter as I think about what to write, how to write it, and how to pitch it to the world in a way that meets my needs and theirs.

What if there is a giant gap between your emotional needs (what you want to release) and other people’s needs or desires? This is where I get confused.

Keeping It Simple & Meeting The Needs

Do you make your brilliant idea into a “Seven Great Reasons To Use Lists” blog post or article? Does that feel like turning a garden of your slowly grown wheat into a packet of Easy Mac for some spoiled fifteen-year-old that watches it bubble in the microwave?

Or do you let it become a wordy book hardly anyone will read? Turning your precious wheat into some type of fancy fermented tabouli salad that nobody wants to eat because it is only sold in elitist stores and takes too long to digest?

To listen well, is as powerful a means of influence as to talk well, and is as essential to all true conversation — Chinese Proverb

One of my supportive proof-reading friends had a response when I first told her that I might publish my book, The Blessings of a Meandering Misfit, as a series of short stories instead of one continuous story. Her immediate reaction was that such a choice was taking the easy way out. (She also happens to be a fabulous singer, you can even listen to her here).

I had to ask myself if that was true. Was it the easy way out, or was it transforming the story into a form that was easier to digest for my readers while still meeting my needs of sharing my experience?

Ultimately, if sharing my experience is what I want to be doing in order to help people find inspiration, see the crazy coincidences, and learn about other ways of life than their own, then my ideal situation is one in which people are reading my book, regardless of how it is presented. As long as the main point comes across and I feel good while writing it.

The Conversation You Have With The World

Whether you are writing, singing, dancing, or working at a retail store or telemarketing office, you are having a conversation with the world. You are inviting a response, even if you never get to hear it. People seek you out, avoid you, or pay excessive amounts of cash for you because of the response you elicit from them with your ability to listen and share.

You have to realize this. I have to realize this. There are several components at work- My feelings, my needs, your feelings, your needs. They all come together and sometimes create a win-win situation for everyone. Other times, there are rejection letters and scowled eyes, confused at the words on the screen.

When is it Too Much for Blogging?

If I have a fabulous idea for a post about what triggers our inner defenses to ignore certain blog posts while soaking in every word of others, and I want to combine that with statistics about book sales, ad sales and nonviolent communication and the psychology of defense mechanisms, how many people are going to stomach it? How many people will even give it a chance, based on my perhaps-poorer-than-ideal skills at presenting such a complex topic skillfully?

If I can write it as “The Top 3 Ways To Snag A Reader With A Simple Title,” well, you can imagine how much easier it will be to attract people.

When Is Too Much Lost?

My question is: How far is too far? At what point is your writing being made too reader-friendly and losing some of the spice that made it what it was to begin with? And how can you measure your needs compared with your hopes for how your writing is received?

Is the writing still making you feel good and satiated if you write it with the reader in mind more than your own emotional process? Do you perhaps feel even better if you write it in an easily-digestible way because you can get more feedback, even if you can’t get the instantly-relieving feeling of just spouting out your feelings, unedited?

These are the things I wonder about, and I would love to know how others work with them.

What Makes Your Voice Valuable?

If you want to make a living doing something you love, it needs to be valuable. When that something is writing, it comes down to your voice.

As a new writer, I think an awful lot about my voice. Where is it coming from, what does it offer, and why is it useful to anybody?

What all this leads up to is, will anybody want to pay for it?

When I think about what to write, what to do, or where to draw inspiration from, sometimes I find myself with an incessant thought.

I am limited by the choices I made in my life.

It may seem obvious, and perhaps it doesn’t bother you like it does me. But I wonder how it would be if I spent more time learning about writing when I was younger. How would it be if I had never gone to school and just traveled instead? Will I ever get to see Amsterdam? How can I find my true voice if I cannot live out every possible option and learn from them all?

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Dear Self: Your Comment Is Awaiting Moderation

Moderation is a word we hear all the time in regards to wine, dark chocolate, red meat, and our comments.

Try to leave a comment on most blogs and you will see that people are actively moderating who gets to say what.

This, I think, is a gorgeous thing that speaks to our inherent sanity as people.

After all, what is the act of moderating comments saying but “This is┬ámyblog, and it will be the type of place I want it to be, with the words I want to see, and that’s that!”

It seems like a very healthy thing to be doing!

But then, what about the things we say to ourselves?

How well do we moderate those?

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I’ll Take a Side of Mindfulness With That: Food, Mood, And Writing

Everything that you feel is fuel for your writing, and everything that you do affects how you feel. So if you want your writing to feel differently, perhaps you can play with the things you put into your body and mind.

Sometimes writing is incredibly fun and nourishing, even if we are doing it for some non-fun reason. Other times, writing an email to a close friend feels like a burden. Why is this?

Your life is a giant three-dimensional puzzle of causality. Everything you do affects other parts of the puzzle. Food is one of the things that has the most measurable and dramatic effect on our mood. If you go for a swim in the morning and then eat some mango, the afternoon will feel different than if you ate pizza for breakfast while watching Jerry Springer.

But how mindful are we of how this food affects our bodies, outside of the initial moment of tasting it? And what does this have to do with writing? We are not writing in a vacuum. We are writing from our bodies, always. If you sprain your wrist, it will show in your writing. If you are in a bad mood from eating too much sugar, it will show in your writing. So how can we work with this?

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