Something to think about: Is writing a process of addition or subtraction?

I know that everybody’s practice is different—and that for some of us it’s different from day to day—that’s why I’m asking.

Do you write spare and build? Do you go florid and reduce? Do you brain-dump and pare back? Do you dole out your words frugally, like precious coins to a beggar-page?

For me, as perhaps for you, words sometimes come in quantum packets…a rich, glittering whole made of the sum of mysterious parts. The organizing is an exercise in plot-logic and emotional logic, the twin criteria that the final arrangement must meet.

Sometimes, the process is like trying to view a quark: Can’t be done. Everywhere I look, the answer is somewhere else. I make the prime mistake of writing in individual words rather than in complete ideas. I run up my data-plan usage total on…not to find the word itself, but to find an idea, a viable image—which is, of course, exactly the way NOT to find one…a way of keeping the mind moving while waiting for the real inspiration to come. This is the place of, as we say in video-land, “We’ll fix it in post.”

Sometimes, like yesterday, like today, I find myself with an embarrassment of riches. An embarrassment, literally. To leap away from the calculus analogy, I find myself with a cloying, syrupy word-glue that tries too hard to be tasty. Who the hell is this writer, and has she no self-editing skills at all?

When this happens, distance is the answer. A forced separation. I fight the temptation to go back and take one more look, make one more tweak. It’s a very hard thing to ask of one’s dedicated self. Especially when I know that the issues will be clearer by light of day.

I don’t necessarily believe in the adage “Edit by half. Then edit to half again.” Sometimes the effort is a useful undertaking. Other times it’s just self-mutilation.

The purpose is not to gut the equation; rather, it is a desire to reduce to purest essentials. The answer that waits in the perfect balance of addition and subtraction. The proof of the heart.


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