Write On Wednesday: Editor at Large

This process of moving house has become an exercise in revision. For weeks, I’ve been going over all my possessions with a fine tooth comb – must I have four sets of casserole dishes? five travel mugs? half a dozen different styles of placemats? How many black purses do I really need?

So I red-pencil items like a good editor would do extraneous words, consigning them to trash bags, donation bins, Craig’s List.

It’s been surprisingly easy to jettison all this baggage, and I feel lighter and freer by the moment. I’m almost loathe to take anything at all to the new house, am delighted at the thought of being pared down to the most bare of essentials.

That’s what a well-written piece of writing is like, isn’t it? Pared down to bare essentials.

The key is knowing what words are essential.

“The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components,” writes William Zinsser in On Writing Well, a copy of which I found buried in a chest of drawers in my bedroom during yesterday’s cleaning. “Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb which carries the same meaning that is already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what – these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.”

 

Like my cupboards overflowing with coffee mugs and dresser drawers spilling scarves, socks, and costume jewelry, Zinsser shakes a red-ink stained finger at clutter – “the disease of American writing.”  Clear your head of it, he exhorts the writer. “Clear thinking becomes clear writing.”

But I can’t help but wonder (a phrase Zinsser would strike right through with red pen) – can things be too clear? Does writing stripped so clean and uncluttered lack some undefinable personality, a spark of cachet to endear it to the reader? This comes to mind as I peruse the top of my piano, the family photographs, the crystal candlesticks, the tiny sculpture of a woman with arms spread wide in joy. Each of these items could be classified as clutter, yet each one means something to me. Like beautiful, descriptive language, each one adds a touch of beauty to the room.

It’s a fine line, this process of revision.

What to leave in. What to leave out.

While my impulse at this moment is to clear out all the clutter, when all is said and done will I survey my surroundings and feel that something is missing?

The challenge is to strike a balance between the two.

I hope I’m up for it.

 

Write on Wednesday: Streamlined

I just euthanized two of my blogs.

And no, I’m not in mourning. Not even sad.

It was time. Everything has a season, and it felt like the blogging season as I once knew it was waning.

I had a lovely conversation  – a real live conversation! on the telephone! – with one of my favorite fellow bloggers on this very subject. We talked about how blogging has changed in the years since we started, about the growing tendency to use blogs as one part of a “platform,” about the way social media like Facebook and Twitter have risen to prominence and almost usurped blogging as a digital network.

The conversation was a good one because it helped me recall the reason I started blogging in the first place (I wanted a place I could express my ideas in writing and share them with others), why I want to continue with it (to share those personal stories which I believe create connections between people), and what I hope to gain in the future (the impetus to continue writing, continue connecting with others, continue exploring life in general and my own in particular through the written word).

But it also made me realize that blogging has revealed other ways to satisfy my urge to write, that same urge for connection which provided the impetus to register a blog and push “publish” for the first time. Because of my involvement with blogging and other social media, I can write for e-zines like All Things Girl. I can connect with other readers through Goodreads and my Bookstack Facebook page. I can even go old-school and call people like Angie on the telephone.

I don’t need three blogs to do any of those things. So instead of three separate blogs, there will now be just this one, the place where I started almost seven years ago.

The place where we meet to talk about life in general.

I hope you’ll join me here.

 

Write On Wednesday: Think Tank

I’ve had a lot to think about lately.

Between music for school and bells,  consulting and training at my previous job, the possibility of selling our home in Florida, the ever present concern about my dad’s health and the little hole in my heart that comes from missing my grandson, my mind has been all awhirl.

photo credit -Trish Robinson

When I get on a roll and start perseverating about all my projected worries to my husband, his general response is “I’m not going to worry about that until I have to. Why get all agitated about it now when you don’t even know the outcome?”

There is wisdom in this line of thinking, of course there is. He is a logical, analytical thinker, while I lead with my emotions – and mostly those born of fear and anxiety. Over the years I’ve tried reform my thought patterns, tried to substitute logic for raw feeling, but unfortunately I’ve never been too successful at it. I don’t know if you can be taught to think like an engineer or an accountant, if they offer courses in logical thinking for enrolled agents studying for enrolled agent exams.

If they did, I would probably fail.

Earlier this week I read a short e-book by novelist Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, State of Wonder) entitled The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life. In it, she talks about the way she thinks through her novels, how she can spend years just thinking about characters and plot and story before ever committing a word to paper. She writes that her first novel was written largely in her head while she was a waitress at TGI Friday’s, plotted while she carried trays of burgers and beer back and forth.

That was just an amazing concept to me, that you could focus your thoughts so intensely on something for such a long period of time. I can never manage to think about one thing for more than a few minutes before my mind flits off to worry ponder something else.

Of course the kind of writerly thinking Ann Patchett speaks of is much different from thinking like an engineer or an accountant. But it requires a similar linear pattern and focused attention to detail, otherwise it could never be productive.

How to break the “monkey mind” cycle and focus my thoughts productively?

Hmm…something else to think about.

How about you? How do you think? Like an engineer, a writer, or a “monkey” like me? Any advice for taming the monkey mind and learning to focus?