This weekend, in a bout of spring cleaning, I attacked the living room with a wild abandon, taking bric-a-brac and hastily displayed household items like candles off shelves to dust. I tossed books onto the dining table and unwound picture frames from tediously placed arrangements.
When I looked up to survey my handiwork, I experienced how wonderful a little white space (or taupe, in this case) can be in a room. Carefully, I replaced a few items, leaving a pile of less-worthy pieces to be dealt with by garage sale. The effect was a relaxing, accomplished feeling.
You see, there’s something powerful about the art of editing. Not just in writing, but in life. Your resume’s too full? Edit. Your career lacks focus? Edit. Your routine’s too chaotic? Edit.
The First Draft
But here’s the thing. about editing.
First, to edit, you have to have something to work with. In fact, writing experts say that your first draft should be a closed-door process, a go-with-your-gut idea dump. Because there’s a time for creating phrases you can’t bear to part with and a time for throwing caution to the wind. And there’s a certain flow, a rhythm you can find, when you follow the cadence of your thoughts or dreams to their natural or wildly unpredictable conclusion.
Without a first draft you don’t have much to work with, and expecting the first thing you try to be exactly what you want to accomplish is a recipe for disappointment, if not disaster.
The pressure to perform perfectly the first go-around creates a paralysis of progress, where you get so stuck inside your own head, you lose track of the idea you had to begin with, and along with it, the confidence to act.
Life is full of this. Grappling for direction, after all, comes in stages.
The Power of Editing
“To be, or not to be, or to think about being?” Just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?
But here’s the thing about editing: it requires certain sacrifice, a discipline not many of us are naturally drawn to. And, perhaps the most difficult task, even for the most accomplished editor, is editing yourself.
Sure, there are tricks: Take your first draft, and cut at least 20%.
But even that doesn’t always go as planned.
The key is to avoid just deleting haphazardly under the guise of simplification. Taking whole days out of your planner at random or trashing an entire chapter on a whim doesn’t add order, it creates more chaos.
Likewise, editing isn’t a skill of pure subtraction. Great editing may also involve restructuring, revising, reinterpreting, or even adding the proper phrase to bring more meaning into the piece.
A Work in Progress
Too often, we fail to realize that our lives are open for editing as we go. Sure, you’ve only got one life, but why assume you have to have everything exactly right the first time?
What it, instead, we embraced the simple, powerful opportunity of good, thoughtful editing?