Musings on the Art of Writing

As a child, I discovered fantastic worlds created in books. When I began writing about the worlds of my own imagination, I realized how hard authors work to set their characters free to live for our enjoyment. This blog will explore that weird and wonderful process.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Golf is a Good Walk Spoiled

Mark Twain said, "Golf is a good walk spoiled" and I wondered as I played golf with my husband last Friday if perhaps his view of golf was similar to my initial view of editing. "Editing is good writing spoiled".

When I first began to write, I had issues with editing (I think I'm basically lazy in nature). My stories were scrawled on paper using a pencil and erasing was how I made corrections. When the paper became too thin to erase, I stopped making changes. This made for some bad writing, of course, but it did save a few trees.

When I graduated to the typewriter, there were the white-out issues of sticky brushes and more white goop on my fingertips than in the bottle. My prose became heavy (literally) with the added weight of white-out. Typing on top of such blobs required skill and patience which I lacked. Worse was re-typing a page, with cutting and pasting an equally unpleasant task.

I was born to write on a computer where corrections are quick and painless. Typing became less onerous; cutting and pasting didn't require glue. White-out is a word that has since vanished from our language, thank heavens.

Mark Twain felt golf spoiled a good walk but I've come to learn that golf can enhance your walking experience. First you have to let go of the competitive spirit that drives us all and then you must stop and enjoy the experience. On a golf course, you are usually in a lovely locale with green grass and trees. Water and sand enriches the scene as does wildlife. I listen to the birds while I putt, feel the warmth of the sun on my face as I stare down the fairway, and know the heat of sand beneath my feet.

I've come to learn that editing does not spoil good writing. It enhances your writing experience. I write quickly when I first scribe a story. Details are scant and I'm more worried about my characters, their dialogue, and the story line than proper grammar and sentence structure. That comes later when I can sit back and enjoy my characters in their setting. I linger over description so it flows with each word and play with subplots and foreshadowing so 'surprises' are plausible and almost expected. I move sentences around, modify their length, and slay the horrid 'passive verb' beast.

It takes me a couple of months to write the bones of a story but I can work for an entire year on editing. Like golf, it gets easier with practice. Just as I can spend an hour working on one aspect of my golf swing, I can also labour on one paragraph or even a sentence. Playing with words is like modifying one's grip on the club, you try different versions until one works. The feeling of exhilaration when you nail the sentence or the ball is the same.

I strive for perfection in both editing and golf and neither is spoiled because I may fall short. With each reading of a manuscript, there are fewer pauses to make corrections and with golf, there are fewer shots per hole. Will I ever write as well as Mark Twain? Will I ever play golf as well as Tiger Woods? Probably not, but I strive to do the best I can given the tools I have. So I now view editing as good writing enhanced.

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