Edit thyself

Margaret Steinfels asked me in another thread, "You are a writing teacher; do you agree (with me) that self-editing and rewriting are among the critical skills writing students need to acquire?"

Yes, Margaret. I tell my students that the best way to self-edit is to a) know your weaknesses and b) know why youre writing.

I have a pretty good sense of my weaknesses (and so do most of the rest of you). In case you havent cottoned on:

Weakness 1: I free associate too much (though less than I am tempted to do) and I talk too much. I like other free-associators and talkers. I want to go to their houses and have coffee with them. Often, Im the last one commenting on a thread because I've taken the conversation so far afield I'm the only one left standing in it. A day I stay on topic and am not the last commentor is a good day.

Weakness 2: I've been to college, I have an advanced degree, and I teach at a university. But I'm not, at heart, an academic, and few of my friends are academics. I respond to and offer the personal, the anecdotal and the practical rather than the abstract, quantitative and theoretical.

Weakness 3: As a kid I was praised for my ability to play character parts in drama class and write stuff about things nobody else had thought of. So my original posts contain clever phrases, allusions, asides, dialectical embellishments and withering remarks that impress the hell out of me. Then I take them all out (mostly), like Samuel Johnson, the great essayist, told me to before I hit the "post" button.

Why am I writing? I offer perspectives cradle Catholics don't have because I was raised to be skeptical and suspicious of organized religion, especially Catholicism. I see and understand the beefs people have against Catholicism and can articulate them. I dont want to know just whats in the catechism, but how it plays out in real life. The responses I get, particularly from those with whom disagree most, are usually the ones that deepen my faith.

For the record, this post took me three hours to write and edit (roughly 30 minutes to write and the rest to edit), and I pruned the original verbiage by 50 percent. Writing is a lot of work and should be an exercise in humility.

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