Create and Edit Like a Pro
Don’t mistake writing for rewriting, and vice versa
It is often said that writing consists of two main processes: writing and rewriting, or addition and edition, corresponding to the creation and the destruction mechanisms that shape all creative endeavors that we know of.
The first process is the one that is more often associated with artistic undertaking. It’s the part that so often comes to us unasked, in the form of an idea, a dream, or free flow of imagination.
The second process is a destructive one. Here, the forms that rose spontaneously in the first part are tested in the light of the conscious mind and trimmed down accordingly, which means that they should be appealing to the woken mind in some way, whether it be for its sensibility or cogency.
Stephen King famously wrote, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open”. Which, in light of what is been discussed here, means that addition happens when the environment is private, so we can let flourish the wildest parts of our mind. The open door situation happens when we make back the connection with the real world, where an effort of cutting, translation, and clarification is necessary.
As an illustration of these two processes operating outside of the writing domain, we have painting and sculpture. For a painter, most of the work is concentrated on the initial effort of applying the first coat of paint. Although retouching happens a lot, a painter has considerably less room for major changes in the “second draft” of the work.
For a sculptor, the axis addition-edition is balanced the other way. We could say that the whole process of sculpting is edition oriented, for the more creative part of the process happens only inside the author’s mind. When his or her hands begin to work, they must have already something precise in mind.
This division is actually backed up by research, as shows Oxford professor Iain McGilChrist in his book The Master and His Emissary. For him, the right hemisphere of the brain is the one that processes creative information. It happens to be a largely unconscious mechanism. On the other hand, the left hemisphere controls the conscious will, analytic thinking, and judgment, that is to say, the edition part of the brain.
So, how do we use this feature of the mind wisely so we can write optimally in terms of such processes? Here follows a list of things I like to keep in mind when working on the more creative side of writing, followed by another one for edition.
The mind wanderer
We cannot overestimate the value of a mind let free to puzzle out the things it’s inclined to. It’s as if in some sense our unconscious side, the creative force in us, should be let free to think through the things it “wants”.
It is required, however, a certain degree of trust in one’s own instincts and in the autonomy of the mind for this to work well, the same trust that some authors refer to implicitly when they say that they don’t take notes. Here the bet is that the autonomous mind will eventually return to what is really important.
Now, of course, we shouldn’t make ourselves hostage to such trips of the mind, which in addition to being unpredictable, can possibly turn out to be another door leading to procrastination.
It’s better advised to combine liberty with discipline, as old wisdom prescribes. We should be able to know in which part of the process we want to be on: letting the mind wander unrestrained or pinpointing the things that should be altered or removed. If one can do that properly, they are on their way to get the max out of this natural feature that seems to be so important that we should do our best to approach it wisely.
Don’t force, summon
Sadly enough, we cannot force ideas to happen, especially the good ones. They are the result of the internal complexities of the brain which has its own unfathomable mode of operation. Consequently, the way an idea is conceived is so out of our reach considering our present understanding of how the mind works that we do better by not going there.
However, we do have the liberty to foster the state of mind that is most proper to creation, the state that if properly summoned can make of us vehicles for a wisdom that is often greater than we would be able to recognize.
There are many ways of conjuring such states of the mind, some of which largely known practices that should be taken seriously — because they work. Things like mindless exercise, music, dance, fiction, meditation, drunkenness, humor, risk-taking, isolation, and grief are all ways to willingly expose oneself in order to get closer to the unrestrained imaginative states that are associated with creativity.
Judge not, watch instead
The creative part of writing is not the proper moment to criticize the content that is being produced. I mean that rather technically, instead of to cheer up people for the stinky stuff they have as a first draft (although there might be reason for comforting, indeed).
When someone puts himself as the vehicle of things that come unasked they are not in a position to judge their work properly, for unrestrained production and critical judgment are opposed processes.
An author should be mature enough to know that they have both good and evil in themselves, to put it simply. One can’t get one without the other. Every person contains at least the seeds for all sorts of reprehensible behavior there is. The truly creative person has to be able to deal with that without having to suffer the sorts of crises that may be related to unveiling the mantle of the unconscious.
An author should be someone who through self-analysis discovers the pretty and the ugly of the human soul and can find harmony in that. That way they can tread the path of their inner truth, and so gain access to the mysteries of the human mind.
But soon enough it comes the time of destroying your work in such a way that it becomes not only yours but also everybody’s. Here it goes three aspects that I find important when editing.
Cut off what doesn’t belong
A writer, now in possession of their full conscious capacity to distinguish utility in the product of their imagination, should proceed to the phase of the production process where what doesn’t belong goes away.
It’s no easy thing to simply delete or modify what has been generated according to some other mechanism we can’t talk to right now. Ideally, the writer should have the genius to identify the good in their work, something they may not necessarily know at first.
Edition is a work of analysis and ponderation. It’s the moment when one should come to terms with what one believes (from the point of view of the ego) and what one is able to make into the public.
It’s as if the writer became the stage to a debate where the parts argue in the name of the social collective interest, the norms of good behavior, and also the individual interest of the writer as the person who is going to respond for those ideas.
It should be said that edition, taken in its entirety, is of the two referred processes the one which requires the kind of courage we associate with people who can stand up to what they believe.
Cut off what is not true
This is especially true for fiction, for other kinds of written production, although not advisable, it’s easier to hide behind a veil of factual information, like newspapers often do. The kind of truth I’m referring to here is not the one present in statements like “the sum of the internal angles of a triangle equals the straight angle” or “the American civil war ended on April 9, 1865”.
There’s another type of truth that operates at a different level of understanding, one that is harder to spot but which makes all the more difference because we respond to them without realizing it.
It is as if there was a meta-reality about which meta-statements can be made. These statements don’t claim correctness about facts. They assert what is universally true, things that are a feature of existence itself.
Examples of such meta-truths that we can find in fiction are “The rightful path is to be found in the darkest place”, “Every treasure is guarded by a dangerous creature”, “Every protagonist is in some way a chosen one”.