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Reblogged:Use Staircase Wit in Editing

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On my to-do list was to go through a New York Times article on "How to Edit Your Own Writing." My notation? How many things like this might I have, want to review, and consider adding to my reference list?" Was I impressed with the links to the resources sprinkled throughout? The steps? A bit of both? I'm not sure. Perhaps I was just a little too busy to evaluate it all at the time: It's worth reading, but I seem to have most of these things covered.

That said, I ended up being most impressed by something from near the beginning, which strikes me a great way to remind oneself of one's underlying purpose in writing:

Image by Louise Eckerström, via Unsplash, license.
My former writing teacher, the essayist and cartoonist Timothy Kreider, explained revision to me: "One of my favorite phrases is l'esprit d'escalier, 'the spirit of the staircase' -- meaning that experience of realizing, too late, what the perfect thing to have said at the party, in a conversation or argument or flirtation would have been. Writing offers us one of the rare chances in life at a do-over: to get it right and say what we meant this time. To the extent writers are able to appear any smarter or wittier than readers, it's only because they've cheated by taking so much time to think up what they meant to say and refining it over days or weeks or, yes, even years, until they've said it as clearly and elegantly as they can." [bold added]
We have all had this kind of experience, and we would all like to avoid having it again. Asking What will I wish I said after this comes out?, perhaps while imagining a walk down some stairs or, better yet, time spent awake with the "should've saids" might make the need for purposefulness in one's writing more emotionally immediate if one is not quite in the mood.

-- CAV

P.S. Now that I think of it, this reminds me a little of how Don Watkins, I believe it was, explained how he chooses book topics: By thinking about which book he wishes had been written about a topic.

P.P.S. A very interesting resource I ran into recently, thanks to Jon Snader, is the online version of Webster's 1913 dictionary. One writer indirectly linked recommends it because "modern dictionaries have lazy definitions that focus too much on simplicity at the cost of precision" and because it has a very simple interface.

-- CAV

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