When I write the last sentence of a book, it’s a huge relief. Not because I’m finished, because I’m FAR from that. But now I have a framework with which to work. I have the skeleton built on which to slap the meat. Once the story’s path is written from point A to point Z, I can have more fun and start doing the truly creative part. Revision and self-editing begins and inspiration is released in a new way.
Self-editing and revision aren’t just meant for writing though. We need to constantly be self-editing ourselves: our attitudes, actions, reactions, words, thoughts, habits. If we ever reach a point that we think we’re finished, we’re missing the “fun.” The “fun” is having a richer, fuller life, a better impact on the world/people around us. Growing into a better human being. Who wouldn’t want that?
A famous saying is often quoted (and mis-attributed) in writing books and conferences everywhere: Kill your darlings, or murder your babies, or some combination thereof. Probably it was first taught in the early 1900s from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a novelist, literary critic, and lecturer, though people think Faulkner or Stephen King said it first. The phrase means that even if you have passages you love and think are the best combination and arrangement of words in the history of mankind, if the overall work is improved without them, you must be willing to highlight them and hit delete. The same can be said for life self-editing. Even if you love something about yourself—say your witty sarcasm or your fabulous story telling—if the humor is at the expense of someone else or the story-telling prevents listening to others, the habit needs to be highlighted and deleted. If your brilliant insight into the way things really work belittles another when you impart your wisdom on others, that takes away the shine of the brilliance. Maybe the deliverance needs to be revised. Or the attitude (arrogance?) behind it.
Of course, there will always be those who don’t want to see, and don’t want the hard work of hitting delete or revising. Over the years, writers have asked me to read their stuff and give feedback. But some don’t really want it. They just need to be encouraged and told they’ve done well. One time, I didn’t understand what the writer really wanted and I’d made pages of notes and marked the manuscript up with red. When we sat down to go over things, I figured out that what I’d done wasn’t going to be helpful. I quickly, carefully found a way to slip my copy of the manuscript covered in red inside some other papers and just let the writer talk about all the plans and excitement for success. The writer didn’t really want constructive feedback. That person needed approval and accolades. There was a lot of momentary anticipation and warm feelings, but in the end, the project went nowhere.
It’s important for us to figure out first if we’re open to revisions. If not, do we want to stay that way? Are we willing to highlight entire passages and hit delete? Or are we the kind of person that the paper covered in red needs to be quickly hidden from sight to avoid conflict? If we can find a way to take steps—even if only baby steps—to self-edit and revise, we’ll open up a world of rich life. We’ll be better friends, family members, partners, citizens, neighbors. What kind of person are you?
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