Editing is such a funny business, especially when it comes to parting ways with a line or paragraph or scene or book you once loved. I actually had to find an extremely low-tech, remedial way to manage this in my own life – I made a “Good Leftovers” file for what I wanted to lose but not so much that I couldn’t maybe call it back in the middle of the night if I was lonely. Did I ever make those booty calls? No, not really. I looked, but I didn’t touch. In the end, I never really needed to, but there was comfort in knowing they were still there.
Logically, this reluctance doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In this day of digital everything, you sort of have to work at it to lose anything you’ve written. But there’s so much more to a deletion than simply a blank space where there wasn’t one before. Just because we’ve realized that something doesn’t work doesn’t mean that we know what will, and getting rid of it can feel a bit like stepping off a curb with a blindfold on. Or maybe we’re haunted by the sense that if we write something good, we must hold onto it for all its worth, because there’s a scarcity around our own ability to flourish creatively.
It takes a long time and a lot of deep breathing to recognize that the opposite is actually true. The more you release and the more you risk, the more willing your creativity will be to come out and play, and the more it comes out to play, the stronger it becomes. The nature of healthy creative work is to evolve, which means that you should expect a certain turnover when it comes to what is most vibrant in your work over time.
And yet, like any good advice, it’s all too easy to take the encouragement to let go too far, and sometimes we find ourselves slicing and dicing our way through our drafts like conquistadors in the jungle. (‘m not pointing any fingers, but this usually doesn’t happen when your life is otherwise buzzy along merrily. Just food for thought.) The key, as always, is to listen to yourself – something far easier said than done. The good news is the more you listen to yourself, the easier it gets to sift through all the voices in your head to figure out which one is speaking your truth. Until then, be patient. Wait until you can hear yourself think, and then wait until your creative voice speaks up. Eventually, after your ego gets done yammering on and the voice of whatever frenemy has pushed your insecurity buttons that day fades into the background, you’ll tune into what’s really true for you. And you’ll know, because the impulse will have the unmistakable hum of possibility behind it.
Art: Hokusai Katsushika, 1760-1849