Enjoying the Art of Editing

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Between the head colds and kidney stones, it’s been a hectic month at our house, leaving me with little time left for blogging.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I was able to get away for a reading and Q&A with Michael Ondaatje. The evening was a part of the Distinguished Visiting Writers Series sponsored by the Virginia G. Piper Center or Creative Writing at ASU .

A couple of years ago I read Coming Through Slaughter, and just recently read The Cat’s Table. Both books are fascinating, not to mention beautifully written. If you haven’t read his work yet, I highly recommend you do. His most well-known work is probably The English Patient. (I confess I haven’t read that one, yet, though I have seen the movie.)

My favorite part of the reading was when Mr. Ondaatje read the storm passage from The Cat’s Table, one of my favorite scenes in the book. If you’re familiar with the scene, you can imagine what an experience it would be to hear it in the author’s voice. Really cool.

During the Q&A session, the moderator asked Mr. Ondaatje, “What is your best advice for a writer?” I found his answer interesting, and encouraging.

“Enjoy the art of editing,” he said. “Edit wildly. Don’t be defensive about drafts. Test the work.”

Like many writers, I know editing is essential to getting a story headed in the right direction. But editing is hard work. Necessary, but hard, work.

I’ve never set out to edit with a sense I’d enjoy the process. And yet, having said that, while revising my novel, I did come to a point where pieces starting falling into place and the work began to hang together as a whole. For a time, it felt almost magical. I enjoyed it.

Mr. Ondaatje offered that advice with such conviction, it really made me think twice about my own process. What more I can be doing with my work at the editing stage? Am I editing wildly? Am I testing the work?

I would love one day to write as beautifully and as compelling as Michael Ondaatje. Perhaps taking this advice is the first step.

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