5 Minutes Until the Miracle

October 15, 2007 at 9:35 am | Posted in editing, Jessica, procrastination, self-editing, writer's block, writing | 3 Comments

Self-editing. That’s the topic for us Purple Hearts this week.

“For a writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what’s superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, and, especially, cut, is essential. It’s satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form: clear, economical, sharp.”

In one of those serendipitous moments, this week I started reading the book, Reading Like a Writer, by the aptly named Francine Prose . The prose above comes from page 2 of that book and has come in handy, not only to help shore up my week’s post but to also provide a much-needed refresher to my perspective on self-editing.

I have approached editing, revision, and rewriting as essential but abject pains in the writing process. But because I get so weighed down in the stress of this part of the process, I often lose sight of the point of the exercise – to make a rough draft better, or a good book great.

Which doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with how to do just that. I have been so frustrated with this process that I have started to question how much longer I want to do this. It’s a painful admission.

But then someone posts some words-for-witers-to-live-by to one of my writing loops and one entry in particular steals my attention: You are closest to making it when you are closest to quitting.

It’s like being a member of the mob for me – just when you try to get out, they do something to Suck. You. Back. In. Argh!

I was watching the Today Show one morning last week and a segment featured a family whose mother’s priceless heirlooms got lost on a trip to the hospital and dumped in the trash. To make a long story short, the family persuaded the trash company to dump the hospital’s compacted waste at a separate site at the landfill so they could search the enormous amount of trash. A compassionate custodian from the hospital joined in to help in the search for this needle-in-a-haystack.

Throughout the arduous process, the custodian encouraged the family by repeating his belief that you cannot quit five minutes before the miracle. After six hours of digging, the family was ready to admit that they were never going to find their mother’s lost jewelry. The custodian ripped open just one more bag . . . and located the heirlooms.

He refused to quit five minutes before the miracle.

Self-editing is the figurative enormous amount of trash I have to overcome. But if I refuse to quit five minutes before the miracle, then perhaps I, too, will be able to sort through the detritus and find the buried treasure in my manuscript.

And besides, Joey-Bag-of-Doughnuts can be very persuasive.

I hope your week is full of miracles and serendipitous moments!




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  1. Jessica- This blog came at a perfect time. I literally just emailed Bria to say I was trashing my current ms because I can’t seem to write it right. Thanks for reminding me to not give up and to stick with it! At least until November when NanoWriMo begins! –Meg

  2. Ironic – I was just going to email you and jokingly link back to Jess 🙂

    Good for you!

    Nice post Jessica – encouraging as always

  3. great quote. and tremendous advice, the five minutes before the miracle. will try to store that one away.

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