Editing Your Life

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector.” – Ernest Hemingway

Since two of my favorite methods of relaxation are reorganizing my bookshelves and cleaning out my closet, it should come as no surprise that throwing away clutter fills me with a sense of accomplishment that, in turn, creates a very happy moment. I’m a “what’s next?” person, I think. In high school, all I could think about was graduating. And in the years since graduating from college, I’ve never once had a “if only I could go back for just one day” moment. (To the town of Ithaca, maybe, but not to college.)

So, this morning, after a weekend away from Google Reader, I saw 1000+ unread stories and I deleted, without reading, about 980 of them. This made me feel good about myself. I can’t explain why. But then I saw THIS pop up and immediately opened it. In case you have yet to click that link, I will just tell you that Boing Boing does, in fact, explain my elation over deletion. From the article: “The more I delete, the happier I am. It’s about learning to say no — learning to refuse things that aren’t contributing to my work or to my life.” Sums up my philosophy nicely, if I were to call my obsession with neatness and simplicity a “philosophy.”

Relating this to writing, since everything so often does, see the above quote by Hemingway. Now allow me to get slightly personal. In my final year and half in college, I became depressed over a very traumatic death in my family. I was fairly decent at hiding just how depressed I became because deep down I knew it was grief and not clinical depression, and grief eventually passes. Still. I took a writing seminar called Writing and Healing specifically to write about this event.

I’m not about to tell you a story where I was magically cured of my grief through the power of the written word, or anything like that. However, the class made me look at what I was going through in a different way – as a piece of literature. The same way we’d tell people in workshop, “This doesn’t really work here,” or “More of this, less of that,” my professor and peer group used the same workshop slogans on my pieces. In a way, they were telling me “If it doesn’t make for good writing, then stop worrying about it.” Pretty harsh lesson for someone going through a rough time as it is, but it helped. The actual writing I produced was still terribly emotional and unedited, but the idea of keeping only what matters, whether in writing or in life, stayed with me.

How do you edit your lives? Cleaning? Drastic hair cuts? Defriending on Facebook? (Which I LOVE on a whole other therapeutic level that can be saved for another day.) Think of Hemingway next time you sit down to write. What absolutely must be there, and what is just, simply put, shit?

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