Editing: The Beautiful Knife

Note: This is an old post from April, 2008 that I was adding back into the "published" category tonight. We writers need to be reminded from time to time (like every day) of the value of editing, so I thought I would post it right up top again for a few days, and then stick it back onto the proper time shelf of the archives. What are your thoughts on editing your own work or working with a professional editor (scary, but productive) on your own writing?

America's favorite French chef, the late Julia Child, exhorted us not to be timid in the kitchen, to learn overall principles of cooking and then use ingredients we have at hand or think we might like; to work with the dough of life until we uncover and discover what works for ourselves; to become inventive originals rather than derivative copiers.

The first time I plunked down what seemed like a fortune for a high quality chef's knife, The Voice (she who knows all and never hesitates to remind me of my shortcomings) laughed at me. "Fool!"

But when I held that perfectly balanced deadly weapon in my hand and sliced mushrooms thin as parchment, The Voice retreated to pout in a corner. One perfect knife in the armamentarium is infinitely better than a dozen dull knock-offs that only produce clutter and ragged cuts.

For most of us, when we first begin to write, whether as a twelve year old or at fifty, the thought of consciously throwing out portions of the grand soul buffet we have laid out is unacceptable.

When we're forced into it, we usually use the equivalent of dull knives, leaving a trail of blood and poorly healed scars. Ugly.

Life is a series of editing choices. Leave this in. Get rid of that. We do it with jobs, lifestyles, the soil where we decide to put down a tap root. I edited out a husband more than a quarter of a century ago. And edited in a fabulous new one. The reflection I see in his eyes is the me I want to always be — but that's another story.

The small, but incessant, damaging drip from the water leak in the wall between my study and the master bath was not going to go away until it was fixed. The study had to be deconstructed, all the books and mementos removed, the desk pushed around, the carpet pulled back and dried, and windows opened to exchange the mildew smell for fresh air.

On the other side of the wall, in the bathroom, the cabinet man — an artist, not a wood butcher — took careful measurements, then cut out the back of the cabinet, exposing molded sheetrock and wet insulation.

The plumber came in and found the leak. A piece of copper pipe from an incoming water line had been grazed by the electrician's drill more than two years ago when the house was first built. That tiny, slow leak had made a mess. Now, it has been fixed and the mold remediated. The cabinet will be repaired, the carpet pad replaced where necessary, and the carpet restretched over a new tack strip.


You might say I wasted a lot of time taking down that all those books from the study shelves, thinking it would have to be pulled away from the wall. Like so many of the circuitous paths we take, that little side trip led me to a more fruitful understanding of the value of editing.

I found old friends amongst the books, ones for whose companionship I am finally ready. I found a remarkable collection of art books that are meaningful to someone else, but not to me, and moved them upstairs. I realized that the intricately carved wood writing table in the corner made the room too crowded, but was perfect somewhere else.  I raised the wooden blinds to open windows, and discovered the amazing morning light.

And Buck, my trusted friend who can read my words and find that one word or phrase which needs to be added, taken away or removed, suggested moving the big desk more into the center of the study so the room can be used even while repairs are made to the carpet. Whoa. That shift, a few feet to the east, changed something. Major edit. A point of view shift. Suddenly, the room works.

It is morning. Sitting at my desk in the middle of the room, surrounded by air, light and my work, I am in that sweet spot where anything seems possible.

3 thoughts on “Editing: The Beautiful Knife

  1. Ahhhhhhh. This is like a warm cup of mint flavored hot chocolate. How very like you, to find the connections between life and writing, between the essential good knife and editing, between opening blinds and the warm morning light. I envy you your perceptions, and love your writing for them. Gully


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