Editor’s Notebook: Have another slice of pie! Hello, Gluttony
Life is short and getting shorter. The pandemic planted that sentence in my brain, and I’ve uttered it many times this year as I’ve jumped into new interests and challenges. While the world has settled into its more usual rhythms and we’ve returned to pre-Covid habits, I’ve been in danger of gorging on PLANS. And, in the countless hours of feverish, late-night writing I’ve been doing—I’m acting like I’m in my early 20s, again—I’m definitely gorging on words.
In her Gluttony essay, the next in our 7 Deadly Sins of the Writing Life series, Cheryl talks first about her over-indulgence in… fewer words. I’ll let her explain how that works. She’ll share, too, how a few other writers encounter Gluttony in their writing lives. These writers answered a handful of questions on the subject, and the answers inform the essay. Given my own recent months of Gluttonous writing, I decided to take a crack at Cheryl’s questions myself:
How does a writer learn when to walk away from a piece and not over-indulge in revision? How do you know when a piece is finished?
I’m lucky in that my writing-Gluttony never takes the form of over-indulgence in revision. I’m a “vertical” writer, so I think deeply about what I’m writing as I move along, and continually double-back to revise. For that reason, my first drafts tend to be very clean, and I typically need to do only 1 to 3 revisions to get myself to a final. I’m done when what I’ve written overlays perfectly the vision I had for the piece. How I know I’ve matched my vision is a bit of a mystery that’s difficult to articulate. When I’ve done it, I feel a kind of quiet euphoria. A rush of satisfaction and faith. I’m so sorry to say this but the answer really is… I know when I know.
Learning to see your vision with clarity that can’t be clouded by someone else’s opinion, and trusting that sense of satisfaction when you’ve created what you envisioned, is key to avoiding losing yourself in unnecessary revision that will only dilute your work. Of course you have to care more about nailing your vision than getting published, which is a big ask for some.
What do you do with those pieces that have been suffocated by your over-revision? Do you revisit? Try to revive them?
As I said above, I’ve never had this trouble. That might be because I’m actively testing revisions as I go. If I cut text I really like but might not fit, I don’t delete it, I drop it at the bottom of my Word file. As I continue with the piece, I’ll periodically jump down to the bottom of the file to revisit chunks I’ve excised. It’s not unusual to realize I’ve got a perfect new place for one of the them, or to be inspired into a tweak of a removed bit that makes it work where it was before. In other words, whenever I make a substantial change to a story, I retain the original material—sometimes I create a new file so I can page back and forth between the two versions—so that I can rework and re-integrate good material anytime.
How about the over-indulgence in an admired writer’s feedback? How does their critique influence your revision?
I always take feedback seriously until I don’t. Meaning that I will make a good faith effort to incorporate feedback but I remain very tuned into my vision as I do so, and the instant I see that a suggested change doesn’t support what I’m trying to do, I abort. I have never over-indulged in feedback.
Is there something else that you over-indulge in when it comes to writing?
I will write until I drop. It’s not strange at all for me to write 8 or 10 hours straight, and often enough during a productive period I will write for 12 or 15. I love being in this kind of flow and will neglect just about anything to keep it going. Most of the time that serves my writing well, if not always my sleep routine or housekeeping or familial duty. And that’s the problem—the neglect of other important things. If I let myself consistently over-indulge in writing time, my life gets out of balance. That’s obviously a problem in itself that needs addressing but of course once I get truly out of balance, the writing will begin to suffer as well.
Is this more of a sin for beginning writers?
Gluttonous revision and solicitation of feedback? I think so, yes. You have to get your writing legs under you before you fully trust your own instincts about when and how much to revise, what writing habits work, how to identify and use good feedback.
As for over-indulgence in writing itself, which is the only kind of writing-Gluttony I experience, probably that’s more of a temptation for experienced writers.
Many thanks to Cheryl for inspiring me all over again, 10 years later, to think about writing-Gluttony.
Next stop: Greed.
May you indulge and enjoy all writing sins forevermore. And may you write well today.