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a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Saturday, November 5, 2011

How Much is Too Much?




Lately, I have been thinking of the idea of “editing.”  By editing, I don’t mean copy-editing (as in checking for conventional language use).  I mean editing in terms of holding back, cutting things out, scaling down. 

I am a big fan of Project Runway, which just reached its season finale.  One of the things Josh, the runner up, was constantly told by the judges was that he needed to “edit” his designs.  He was known for over-embellishing and making his outfits too busy.  His final collection was so strong because he heeded this advice.  For him, it did not come naturally.  He had to keep reminding himself of what the judges and his mentor, Tim Gunn, had previously told him. 

While I was writing book reviews of the books I read this past weekend, I realized that I, too, have to do this sort of editing.  In fact, I also have an editing voice in my head.  Part of me wants to include every idea that pops into my head while I am writing.  However, the editing voice in my head urges me to find a way to connect it, find a way to “make it work” (as Tim Gunn would say), or leave it out, let it go. 

For example, I had to let go of an idea I had about Paintings from the Cave: Three Novellas by Gary Paulsen just because it did not connect to the other things I had to say about the book:

In addition to reading four books this weekend, my husband and I watched one of his favorite old movies—Rear Window.  He hadn’t seen it in ages, and I had never seen it, though I do enjoy a good Hitchcock flick. 

Anyway, the basic premise of Rear Window is that a photographer is bound to a wheelchair with a broken leg as a result of being too daring a journalist on a recent assignment.  He is restless and unable to do his usual work.  So, he focuses on the view out the window of his apartment at the rear of the building.  From that window, he can see the rear windows of many other apartments.  He begins to get involved in the lives he witnesses from afar, and eventually suspects a murder, which leads to the events in the climax of the movie.

The cover of Paintings from the Cave: Three Novellas by Gary Paulsen is reminiscent of the movie setting.  So, naturally, I made the connection.  In fact, the first story in Paulsen’s book contains a character who looks in on another apartment in a similar manner as Jimmy Stewart’s character in Rear Window.  I think there is something there—in the connection.  However, as I wrote the review, I knew the review was not the right place to explore this connection.  So, I left it out.  I edited. 

What strikes me is how difficult this is to do.   The voice in my head helps me do it naturally, but I am not sure how that voice got there.  Years of feedback from teachers and mentors?  How do I help my students hear their own editing voice?   And even then, there was still a voice countering my inner-editor's rational voice—a voice that said, "I like this idea.  I want to share it.  This is too good an idea to leave un-written."

These thoughts reminded me of a post by Ruth from the end of last school year.  So, I went back and reread her thinking.  Although my students are 8th graders, I think a mini-lesson similar to hers, about this inner-editor, would be a good place to start.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Christy, I've been so busy mostly fighting with moving to a new Quicken. Argh! I like that you are considering this dilemma, of all writers, so how do we convince our young students that it makes the writing better, especially if they've actually written something lovely, and don't want to take all those words, and ideas, away? Sometimes I've found that having other peers read and make suggestions works better than coming from me. Thanks for bringing this up to ponder!

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