• Edit Yourself

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 7 comments

    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 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.

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    Leah Kaminsky

    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… Read more »

    Laura Roberts

    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… Read more »

    Leah Kaminsky

    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… Read more »

    Melodie Bolt

    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.

    Leah Kaminsky

    And there’s lots of scientific evidence to back up that “memory is fiction” claim. There was a really interesting piece in Wired examining how the chemicals in our brain involved with the retrieval of memory actually alter the memory itself.


    Not sure if you like sciencey stuff, but this piece really got me thinking about stories and how we construct our identities.

    Charity Kountz

    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… Read more »

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