Cutting and Expanding

The vast majority of revision work entails either expanding passages that further your piece’s heartbeat and cutting those that don’t—the old Michelangelo story about chipping away all the marble that’s not the angel.  Both activities are guided by discernment.  In spiritual circles, discernment means careful listening for what the Quakers call way.  What path is opening before me now?  What is my calling?  What is right action in this situation?  How might I be true to myself and my beliefs?  In revision, discernment is also about deep listening.  What is this piece really about?  What might it want to become?  Can I reach another level of truth-telling here?  In other words, what pumps life into this creative work and how can I, its author, help this life emerge most fully?

Pay close attention to the act of revision and you’ll get all sorts of insights about real-life discernment.  Writing asks that we hunker down in the parts of our story that bring it to life by lingering, expanding, and turning over the details for layers of symbolism.  Conversely, writing asks that we kill the proverbial darlings, letting go of those scenes and sentences we’re attached to but which detract from the piece’s life.  We must enrich all that serves our story release all that doesn’t.  In other words, revision demands that we discern what’s important and why, and then devote ourselves to that end.
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

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