The greatest compliment I’ve ever had about my writing came from famed winemaker Milenko “Mike” Grgich. At an elegant dinner party in the Napa Valley one evening he said, “It’s hard for me to read your work. I have to pay close attention to each word because I know that every one of them is there for a reason.” I don’t easily blush, but blush I did.
That’s why we re-write and edit ourselves. Every word should be there for a reason and, if we remove all the words that do not belong, the ones that are left will have punch. They will resonate and they will be remembered.
It continues to fascinate me how you can start a piece with one focus and, through the editorial process, swing from one place or viewpoint to another. The advent of the computer changed the way we write, freeing up our creative instincts in the process. Before the keyboard, you had to type a piece three or four times, as you went through the re-writes necessary to sand an article, column or book chapter smooth. That monotony led to error creep. But with a computer, you just crank the piece out with no judgmental notions hanging over you, set it aside for a week or more, than come back to the editing process as if it weren’t even your work. Editing and re-writing became instantly more efficient, more effective. You didn’t need as much time because you didn’t have to re-type the whole piece each and every time. The creative process became immensely less encumbered.
It’s also instructive to see the wending way the editorial process takes to get from point beginning to point end. The example I offer below comes from the New Yorker Magazine’s Cartoon Caption Contest, which I faithfully enter every week. I should have won several times by now (according to my lights), but there you are. Last week’s cartoon showed a couple of horn-capped Hun honchos on horseback followed by a long line of paired, suit-wearing office workers with briefcases.
My first caption was “. . . and they’re really good on the drill field.” I then changed “really” to “particularly.” A slight improvement.
The next iteration was “True, they’re much better on the drill field.” Followed by “True, they really score points on the drill field.” “Score” was then replaced by “rack up.” A little more punch than the slighter, simpler “score.” I then changed “drill field” to “in the drill competition.” Kind of funny, but still not quite edgy enough. Somehow I had to work something a little more dangerous—the motto of the cartoon character Darkwing Duck was echoing in my brain: “Let’s get dangerous!”—into the equation.
Aha. There it was. The life or death element. That might do the trick. Thus, here is the entry I finally sent into the competition: “True, they rack up way more points in drill competition than in actual combat.” Yup, that ought to win it for me. At last!
©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle