Time and distance help a writer get rid of “junk” in a story
My husband and I have spent the last two weeks cleaning and sorting our basement and crawl space. It is time to downsize. After living in the same house for almost twenty years, a house with ample storage space, we’ve collected a lot of stuff. Although I have weeded through things at different times over the years, I have never attacked the task as ruthlessly as now.
I took some time in the midst of the cleaning and sorting to do some writing. I began needed rework on a short story I wrote this winter. I discovered I was ready to be as ruthless with the story as I was with my physical stuff. Perspective had changed.
When I weeded through belongings in the past, I tended to hang onto things I thought I might use some day, even if I hadn’t used them for quite a while or ever, because I had room to keep them. I don’t know how much storage space I will have in the future, but I assume it will be much less. Something that has sat unused in a box in the back of my crawl space for ten years or more is certainly not essential. As for those things being kept for sentimental reasons, the passing of time has lessened the attachment.
The passing of time since I last looked at my story has effected a similar change in perspective. No longer immersed in the immediacy of its writing, I read the story from the outside in, not sitting in the midst of it. I am willing to cut things from the story. Descriptions, events and dialogue I liked or found personally interesting, but were not important to the story. I have a better understanding of what to focus on.
How does one gain enough distance from one’s writing in order to hone it and edit it? Time away from the piece helps. Even a short break while focusing on something else can be useful.
Whether setting a piece aside for a long time or a short time, finding a way to take a step back from your story can improve your focus on the heart of the story and identify what is essential and what is non-essential. Short stories rarely have room for the non-essential.
What do you do to gain perspective in your writing? How has time and/or distance helped you gain perspective in other endeavours?
Photo Credit: Nic McPhee via flickr cc