Cooking the Fat

Last week I talked about cookies, hamburgers, and developmental editing. This week the conversation continues, at least about the hamburgers. Hopefully you’ve eaten already or this post might make you hungry. Particularly for non-vegans and -vegetarians, the idea of a perfectly grilled hamburger on a sourdough bun, topped with your favorite condiments, and juice dripping down your hand is mouth-watering. A similar goal is also what a writer hopes to achieve by the time she has finished editing.

Some people prefer gas grills, others charcoal. I grew up with charcoal, so of course I don’t think there is anything better. Once the coals were the perfect temperature, the hamburgers went on the grill. The lid was closed and they were left to cook. For me, the writing process is similar. After a thorough developmental edit, I need to let my story stew for a short while. It’s like it lets my writing gel, like the meat of the burger.

Then it needs to get flipped. This starts the second editing process. As I tell my writing students, editing is like cooking the fat off a hamburger. It’s removing all the extra stuff to boil it down to only the best parts. But, without at least some fat to begin with, the flavor isn’t as great. The fat seasons the meat. With editing, its similar. The ideas that first were laid out now need to be boiled, grilled, the fat cooked off.

This is, honestly, the more brutal side of editing. It’s when the red pen makes it look like your manuscript is bleeding onto the white page. Sometimes a favorite scene needs to be cut for the greater good. It can be painful, but learning how to edit well makes a story shine. It cleans off the gem to reveal a diamond – at least, that’s the hope.

Finally, once the story – or hamburger – is done, it’s time to enjoy the fruit of your labor. Or maybe celebrate by eating that burger.

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