Edit Ruthlessly

If you listened to the podcast of The Writing Show where I talked about nonfiction writing, you’ll know that one of my Five Rules is to edit ruthlessly. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may also remember that in the May 2, 2007 post I mentioned that the hardest editing for me to do is getting rid of really “nice little stories” that have nothing to do with what I’m writing. I fall in love with moments or vignettes or images that derail the tale, but as much as I hate to get rid of them, I know they must go.

HOWEVER, one of the happy things about this blog is getting to resurrect some of those axed passages—because I really did love the moments they reflect, even though they didn’t belong in the book. One day in Melbourne, while riding back to Sue’s place on the tram (streetcar), one such little vignette unfolded, and while I still have no doubt it had to come out, I’m pleased that I can share the excised passage with you now.

On the tram there was the most adorable little boy—adorable not so much because of his appearance, but more because of his behavior. He was dressed in blue corduroy pants and a light blue shirt that was too big, but had the cuffs rolled up enough so the sleeves were the right length. In one hand he had his schoolbooks, in the other he clenched a $2 note to pay his tram fare. He could barely see over the conductor’s ticket table, so all you saw was tousled blond hair and blue eyes fringed with long, blond lashes.

He said, “Excuse me,” twice to the conductor, who was busy trying to close up his books and change maker because his shift ended at the next stop. Because he was ignoring the little boy, I finally said, “Why don’t you just sit down—it doesn’t look like the man wants your money.” At this, the conductor looked up at me and blinked, looked down at the little boy (about 7 or 8 years old, I’d guess), then grinned and said, “Yeah, go ahead. You can sit down.” The little boy looked at me as if I’d performed magic, and came and sat next to me.

He had a great quality of gentleness about him, and a smile that spread across his face like sunlight. At the next stop, a woman got on the tram with a baby in a stroller. The little boy watched the baby with the most beautiful and loving curiosity, looking up at me now and again to make certain I was sharing in this unspeakable delight. I was sorry when my stop was reached and I had to leave him behind. I wish I could let his mother know how wonderful I thought her son was.

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6 Comments

Filed under Australia, Book, Podcasts, Writing

6 responses to “Edit Ruthlessly

  1. Yes, editing ruthlessly is absolutely essential. I love your description of ‘falling in love’ with vignettes and moments… I like to think of it as ‘killing your darlings’ when you go back to edit your work.

    I’ve written a few pieces on my own blog about this, which you might want to have a look at too. Both talk about this phenomenon, and give some guidelines on self-editing.

    Let’s face it, self-editing is damn hard work. Not least because you put so much of your ‘self’ into what you do.

  2. Thanks, Leticia. You’re right—it is hard work. However, it’s worth it. The final product flows so much more smoothly, once the twigs and rocks are removed from the stream of words.

    I did check out your blog and enjoyed it—and I’ll be back for more. It’s great to connect with people who love the written word.

  3. How about thinking of it as “transferring your darlings,” Cynthia? 🙂 Sounds so much nicer, and works.

    • Yes, transferring sounds nicer—and it gives me a good reason to keep my blogs going. I’ll always have a place for the fun or charming stories that need to be turned out of their original homes.

  4. And I must say that your book reflects this effort!

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