Culling the Artistic Output

I have a four year old. Anyone who has a 4-year-old in their lives knows that kids of that age are pack rats. My daughter refuses to throw away ANYTHING. Every rock she finds, every leaf, every scrap of paper, every junky toy from fast food restaurants. I do believe that our house holds the world record for empty toilet paper rolls—my daughter insists on keeping them because she wants to paint them. So my house is flooded with piles of “stuff.”

The problem is compounded by the fact that my daughter is an artist. She loves to draw and paint. And since many of her pictures are, shall we say, modernistic in their swirls and colors, she can draw many pictures in a short amount of time. Her output is tremendous. However, it leaves us drowning in paper—paper that my daughter will not part with.

So I use the time-honored parental trick of waiting until she is out of the house to clean up. I admit sadly that many of her works of art find their way into the recycle bin. I spent seven hours this weekend digging out from the art-drifts. My daughter will never notice the pictures are gone, because I kept the ones I knew were close to her heart.

Scouring my house and having to decide what art to keep and which to pitch reminded me of the editing process all writers have to go through. Each sentence is a work of art, yet we have to cull them. We need to keep the ones that resonate, and send the rest to the recycle bin. And that’s hard, because each sentence contains a piece of our heart and soul.

Sometimes, we have to employ an outside editor to come in and scour our manuscript for us while we avert our eyes. We need the objective eye to help us separate the art from the mindless squiggles. We need them to dig us out from under our own art-drifts.

It’s never easy, paring down our artistic output. But the culling is necessary to bring out the best of our work and connect with our readers. The lesson learned from all this? Our art is more than just knowing how to polish what we leave in.

Sometimes the art is in knowing what to throw out.

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