What to Leave In, What to Leave Out

canstockphoto3803256I love editing. There is something about cutting unnecessary words and reordering sentences that gives me pleasure. It’s an art form to make things simpler, cleaner and more lyrical. Of late I’ve needed to apply those same skills to my life, especially when I find myself drowning in too much information or too many nuisance tasks. What gets left in? What gets deleted? What gets rewritten to make more sense?

This week, I re-read a favorite writing resource, On Writing Well by William Zinsser. He advocates clean, expressive writing. I’ve been doing a lot of muddled writing lately and it is reflective of my muddled mind. I have a lot of authorial clutter – a list of what this blog and my novel should or should not be. It’s gathered slowly, but progressively. Create content, be a web presence, write everyday, write what you know, find your voice, be interesting, be funny, be, be, be…I’m shaking it off, clearing away the “shoulds” and getting back to creating work that gives me pleasure.

I took some time off from blogging. I went to my local library and selected a pile of random books. I strolled up and down the aisles. I grabbed Bernard Heinrich’s Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival, Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg, Hochschild’s The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin, and A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry. I’ve been spending the last few days falling in love with reading again. It is slow and I can rest in between pages, re-read lines that strike me, be amazed and thrilled at well-crafted sentences. Hours slip by and I am somewhere else.

My physical space needed to be edited as well. There were remnants of this week’s hastily put together Valentine’s classroom party and my taekwondo sparring gear waiting to be cleaned. My desk was covered with draft work production reports and manuals, mail that I haven’t gone through, empty photo albums that I pulled out last week to start filling. I couldn’t see a clear surface anywhere. There was no room to be creative or start with a clean slate. There were chores piled up everywhere, my guilty conscience in solid form.

I realized, too, that I had to re-claim my time. I didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t surf the internet or answer emails. I didn’t run about on one errand or another. There were moments of sitting intentionally still, staring out the window at snow-laden trees and daydreaming about a spring garden. I thought about what we could do for summer vacation. I imagined walking with my family through Golden Gate Park or visiting Graceland or camping on the Boundary Waters up north.

I’ve been listening to a lot of noise unintentionally, catching tunes on the radio while on my way to school, getting people’s ringtones stuck in my head, hearing too many talking heads on the big brother televisions that are everywhere. I sought out silence and quieted the crowds in my head. I sat and listened to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Chills ran down my spine. I had forgotten that music can do that.

I am not a highbrow person. I love pop music and movies where everyone happily rides off into the sunset. I read everything I can get my hands on or my eyeballs run across online. But when I lack inspiration, it becomes desperately important to step out of the mainstream into places where I am a tourist. I need to listen to classical music, read an academic tome, look at art that isn’t in a poster frame, see an independent movie, allow my mind, if only briefly, to challenge itself, to imagine that I, too, am capable of creating higher art.

I am clearing my physical space, leaving it open once again for breathing and movement. I am clearing my brain clutter, by doing menial tasks without the expectation of perfection, but tasks that have a satisfying beginning and end. I am quieting the stream of disparate information. I am staking a claim on hours at a time. I will sit still and get lost in the sound of my own voice on paper. I’ve missed it.

37 Comments on “What to Leave In, What to Leave Out

  1. What a great idea. Good for you! I look forward to your return.

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    • I think I’m back, just in smaller doses. As you well know, blogging takes some time and energy – I found it becoming disproportionate to the amount of quality writing I was producing (which was hitting about zero lately!). Moderation is the key to everything and when I find myself out of sync, it’s always good to step back and make some adjustments.

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      • You are absolutely right. It is great you can recognize it. Not easy, you know.

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  2. I so hear you, Green. Blogging, with it’s near instant feedback, critique and dialogue can pull you in and before you realize it, you’re spending your downtime engaging in it. I too need to reorganize my time and make space for other things – reading and creating are at the top of my list too. Thanks for putting so well into words what I happen to have been thinking.
    Denmother

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    • I have tendency to go to extremes, so I’m trying to just do a little less of this and a little more of that. I love blogging but in the grand scheme of things, if I ever want to be published, I have to be less interactive and more focused. Just thinking about how I get information – from elevator music to news headline scanning is worth examining. We are bombarded. Constantly taking in so much information in bits and pieces, causes short circuits in our deeper thinking processes.

      Thanks for reading and commenting – good luck on your own reorganization!

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  3. Sounds really nice – what a great week. I’m jealous. For me, it’s all about the music to soothe the mind and take me somewhere else.

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    • It’s been a good reminder to step back, to trade quantity for quality. I just need to figure out how to keep doing those things a little more regularly. Music is a big part of my life, but sometimes it ends up being a soundtrack for the mundane, instead of something to take in all on its own merit.

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    • Glad to hear it! I was also thinking about how some writers have a difficult time reading other people’s work while in progress on their own. Have you found that to be the case?

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  4. I’ve begun to edit my life, too. I just dropped out of a book club. I cannot read books on someone else’s schedule. I want this year to be one of doing things I want to do, less obligations, more time with family. And I do hope to clean up and organize my studio!

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    • It’s so easy for our time and energy to be eroded away by things that we wouldn’t choose. I often have the argument with myself about how organization and cluttered surfaces interfere with artistic endeavor. Some people swear by their chaos. I wonder, too, though, if the drive to “clean up” is merely another distraction. It starts becoming a circular argument!

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  5. I think any time we can take time away from the phone, emails and the internet and reclaim our time is time well spent. :).

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  6. Editing your life is a great process – it makes you evaluate what is important to have around and for me it reminds me that those things are still there. Sometimes they get buried under new and meaningless stuff. Editing refocuses me. I rarely find myself missing the things I edit out of a space or out of my schedule – of course it fills back up all too quickly.

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    • I think it’s a process that needs to happen on a regular basis, since, as you point out, things begin to fill up again. For whatever reason, I wait until I hit a wall before I realize that it’s time for a clearing out.

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  7. I love the concept of “editing your life” in order to better “edit your writing.” Smart notion. I like it. I’ve recently deactivated Facebook–only temporarily, I’m not allowing myself back on until this summer. I’m looking forward to spending the rest of the winter and all of the spring focusing on my own life instead of getting caught up in the lives of others (particularly people I’ve haven’t spoken to in, oh I don’t know, twelve years?). It’s important to cut some areas out of your life–especially the extraneous areas that aren’t really serving any true purpose. Now there’s Feng Shui at it’s finest ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • I closed my Facebook and Twitter accounts a few months back and haven’t felt much difference (perhaps less frustration). I’m always amazed how quickly I can fill my time with things I’m not particularly interested in and then fail myself in focusing on what’s important. I like the idea of applying Feng Shui to one’s life as well!

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  8. Time and again I have come to value the power of focus and sometimes that’s as simple as changing things as you suggest.

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    • It sounds silly, but it will occasionally hit me “Hey – I have some control over my time. Why don’t I exercise it?” Now, to build in plenty of “disconnect” time on a regular basis – that’s the challenge!

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  9. I love Barber’s Adagio for Strings and it’s been a while since I’ve listened to it. The music seems to be so full, and yet so simple, quiet, and content. It fills the pauses and silence with it’s mood. It is not ‘busy.’
    I like this idea of having focused disconnect time. It’s so easy to waste time being busy, still feel like you are in a funk, and not get anything productive done.

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    • You’re absolutely right. I think uninterrupted time is coming at a premium these days as well, with all the different ways people can get into touch with a person. I think all that multitasking erodes one’s ability to have a coherent thought.

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  10. Editing did me good. It was a path that made me live a simpler life. It actually made me know my kids (and myself) better. When you’re high and all, there’s a tendency to accumulate. Editing made me go slow on things and be more prudent on what to take on in life. I hear you well on this! =>

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    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting. This post seems to be part of a phase of navel-gazing, life balance posts. It’s the dead of winter here, so I have been spinning my wheels a bit trying to make some sort of sense and headway as a person and a writer!

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