Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Musings of a Cluttered Mind

By Julie Coulter Bellon

Over the holidays, I decided to organize my basement. I love the feeling of being organized and we had put this off for a very long time. My husband and I were up until 1 a.m. almost every night going through toy boxes, paper boxes, books, magazines, and old computers. We took a huge load to our local Deseret Industries and another huge load to the dump. By the time New Year’s came around, our basement had been transformed from the maze of boxes it had been. We now have a large game room that the entire family can enjoy with the foosball table, airhockey table, and train table, along with the entertainment center. While I still have some paper boxes to go through, the effort was well worth it.

But during that marathon organizing, we were flipping through channels on the TV and found this little show called "Clean House" on the Style network. It’s this very motivated woman named Niecy who takes her team into people’s horribly cluttered homes and tries to get them to part with their stuff so they can organize it and make it over. It was so interesting to me to watch them try to reason with people. For instance, they worked really hard with a grown man who is standing in a room filled with junk, that it’s okay to let his toy Godzilla go. I mean, this man was really attached to this stuff. In a way that made you feel sorry for him because he was stunting his life by not being able to let go of stuff that he never used, but only held on to for sentimental reasons.

Now far be it from me to judge this man and his toy Godzilla. I have stuff that I wouldn’t want to part with as well. I keep stuff that wouldn’t mean much to anyone. For instance, I kept the shoes I wore when I walked to the Parthenon in Greece and to Mars Hill where the Apostle Paul preached. They’re hot pink shoes that I would never wear anywhere else and they sit in my closet, but they have sentimental value to me. It would be hard to give them up. (In my own defense though, this guy and his Godzilla action figure were standing in a room so cluttered you had to make a small path through it to walk in it. My clutter is hidden in my closet!) But my point is, there are some things that mean something to you, that don’t mean anything to someone else.

So it is with writing.

When I was an editor and would tell people where they needed to improve their manuscript, what scenes needed to be cut, and where the writing needed to be tweaked, I can’t tell you how many times an author would say, "No, I need to keep that." It didn’t seem to matter that the scene weakened the story, or it was overly sentimental, or it was out of character or whatever the problem was, the author was generally unmoving and was anxious to tell me why that particular piece of writing meant so much to them. Even after our discussion and explaining why it still needed to be cut, some authors still wanted to hang on to their sentimental toy Godzilla that was holding them back from having a great story.

However, on the other hand, my editor gave me back my manuscript dripping in cuts and tweaks that made my heart ache. And I wanted to protest a few things and tell her what that scene meant to me. I did explain in one instance, and while I had to tweak it a little to make it more clear, I got to keep the part I wanted, but the others I had to let go. It was like the editor was my "Clean House" team and I was Toy Godzilla man. They made the suggestions that were based on the big picture, that would be an improvement in my life---and after some balking, I finally gave in and trusted them that they knew what they were talking about.

It's definitely a compromise between all the parties in these sorts of situations. But just like Toy Godzilla man eventually got an organized, clean house hopefully, after all the editing, I will end up with a clean manuscript that will bring the same feeling of accomplishment I got after working hard to make our basement usable and a place where everyone wants to be.

So get rid of your toy Godzillas that you’re hanging on to. Free yourself, free your editor, free your mind!


At 1/17/2008 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If its free, I'll take two.

Great insights. Oh how I wish I had let go of those sentimental paragraphs. Then I could look back on previous works without so much horror.

David Woolley

PS: I sign in as anonymous because I'm too lazy to sign in with the password. Forgive me my laziness oh great toy Godzilla-woman, Julie Bellon!

At 1/17/2008 4:48 PM, Blogger Worldbuilder Robin said...

This is one of the many reasons I love reading this blog: insights into the writing process. Someday soon, I hope to have my manuscript written to the point that some editor will take it and cut it to shreds so it can become the story I'm trying to make it.

At 1/17/2008 8:38 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

David I feel the same way about some of my earlier books. And don't feel bad about the anonymous thing, I do it all the time! :)

Worldbuilder, I hope the exact same for you. Good luck!

At 1/17/2008 10:07 PM, Anonymous Jennie Hansen said...

Julie, I think you've hit on one of the greatest insights regarding a polished manuscript, one that is ready for publication. I, too, have been an editor,and now as a reviewer, I'm very conscious of those books that need an editor and of writers who need to step back and take their editor's advice. Being a writer, too, I've discovered how hard it is to give up cherished bits and how hard it is to see that a much-loved segment really isn't necessary and does nothing for the story. You've heard the phrase about the man who serves as his own attorney having a fool for a client. Something similar can be said for those who publish without an editor. On rare occasions it works, but more often it doesn't. Somehow on the road to professionalism, I think each writer has to discover that his/her editor has the same goal we do--the best product possible.


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