Edit Yourself

Posted Posted by Christopher Savage in Writing Help     Comments 7 comments
Apr
18

Hey, guys. I recently attended my American Lit post-1865 class where we studied Jack Kerouac and his opinions on writing. Oddly enough, the student who did the research told us Mr. K wasn’t considered a great literary figure. He was relegated more towards the realm of inspiring (or insipid, take your pick) literature aimed at or appealing to late teens/early twenties wandering types. The presenter brought up the fact that at that age in a person’s life (and mostly male persons), they’re more likely to read On the Road and be affected by it. It seems the youth need their lost time, which I believe is true.

Anyway, getting back to Mr. K’s opinions on writing: he believed in a jazzy, improvisational style of writing that, once written, should not be revised or edited in any way. He believed in the purity of the moment and the sanctity of preserving that moment. When I first started writing I believed that too. Nowadays, of course I revise and edit my stuff. But I can remember when I believed too in the holiness, the purity, the sanctity of a moment, and how I thought it was my duty to preserve that moment forever.

My ideas have obviously shifted since then, but I bring up On the Road and Mr. K’s ideas on writing to extrapolate a connection between the two. Is off-the-cuff, improvisational writing actually a sacred element of a lost moment that won’t be found again? And if so, should it be interfered with? Or do moments exist always and belong to us forever already, and as such, are ours to manipulate and arrange however we’d like? Of course there’s also the factor of doing justice to the voice of a work, which I believe dictates whatever future action may be.

How about you guys? Did you ever – or do you still – have the attitude that you can’t edit your writing for fear of destroying it or losing its essence? Also, is this ideology something that afflicts beginners more than experienced writers?

 

Christopher Savage 150x150 Edit YourselfChristopher Savage is a writer living in Austin. He writes poetry, short stories, non-fiction, film scripts, comic books, and one long novel, among other things. He is the founder of the Boho Coco literary zine and blog and is currently attending UT Austin as a Sociology major, English minor. He is survived by his cat Cashew.

7 Comments to “Edit Yourself”

  • I do think there’s a lot to be learned from Kerouac and “improvisational writing.” At the very least, it’s something to be remembered as you produce work, especially if you’ve become an overly educated perfectionist, self-editing as you go (and thus interfering with the creative process). They’ve done some very interesting studies recently with creative people in fMRIs, and they’ve seen similarities in brain activity when artists get into a “flow” across many different genres. It’s an important and real thing.

    This also reminds me of a story I heard on Selected Shorts awhile back about a woman who starts with a novel and edits down to her a novella and then to a short story and then a short short and a paragraph and a single world and then there’s nothing at all. It resonated both on a practical level (this is what happens when you edit too much) and on an existential one as well. I *swear* it was the Winnowing of Mrs. Schuping (http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1991/01/07/1991_01_07_026_TNY_CARDS_000356829 ) but looking at the description I don’t think that’s it. Regardless, it’s pretty much proof of what Kerouac hated.

    All of that said, I could never write piece without eventually editing it. Just depends on when. How about you?

  • I think there’s something to the idea of writing in the moment, capturing feelings and sensations as they appear to you at that point in time. But I would agree with Leah that, eventually, you will want to edit your work. Especially if you are looking to publish it. No one writes perfect first drafts, after all.

    For me, poetry is closer to this “moment” than short fiction or a novel. I am less apt to want to edit my poems, because they are more about capturing those bits and pieces of life and sensation as they come. Fiddling with them often makes them feel less true. I won’t say I would *never* edit poetry, because there are always ways to make things better, but it depends on how it makes the poem feel. If it rings true, it stays. If it makes the thudding sounds of falsehood, it goes.

    Of course, my poems are more for me than for public consumption. I consider myself a dilettante in this area, having no formal training, so perhaps I am more of the “beginner’s mind” there and thus closer to the Kerouac approach in poetry, vs. a more trained view towards short fiction and longer works!

    • Laura, when you write your poems, do you do any editing as you go? I don’t do much with poetry but I do a lot with flash, and I feel like the process of writing very imagistic, lyrical prose involves creation through tinkering – playing around with one word, then a couple then a line, then two, and so on, until I’ve slowly built a piece. There’s little need for editing as it was built on a word by word basis. Do you do the same? Or by in the moment do you mean your poems just flow out when you’re feeling it?

  • Chris wrote, “Or do moments exist always and belong to us forever already, and as such, are ours to manipulate and arrange however we’d like?”

    If you take a look at Kwame Dawes’ website ( http://www.kwamedawes.com/homebiography.htm ), you’ll see in the upper right hand corner the words “all memory is fiction.” If that is true, and I believe it is, we should edit always. As Leah points out, perfectionism via revision, like plastic surgery, can become an disfiguring obsession.

  • I often see newer writers who believe they should not edit their work. I suppose it’s within us all to want to believe we can produce something great with minimal effort. We want it to be easy, to be able to say, “See what I can do?” and to be better at it than anyone else. It’s part of human nature. But reality has a nasty habit of bringing about the destruction of silly fantasies and for the vast majority of us who fall into that category, it takes a while to realize. I believe you can still maintain the sanctity of the moment AND edit yourself afterward as long as you pinpoint the moment you want to preserve and then simply work to enhance it. Make it the best moment it can be – ultimately that’s what we all are looking for anyway. Very thought provoking post!

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