By Susan Murphy
I want to apologize. In my Sept. 13 column, second paragraph, I said, “I was not exactly sure what this would involve.” Instead of “was not” I should have said “wasn’t.” It makes the sentence flow more smoothly.
This happens all the time. I look back at what I’ve written and realize there was a better, more graceful way to get the message across, which is terrific if the article is still glued to my computer. But when the piece has already seen newsprint, it can be downright painful.
My columns originate with one quirky idea, something I read, something somebody said, something that hit me while I was brushing my teeth. I expand on that quirk factor with a deluge of brainstorming ink in one of my daughters’ castoff spiral notebooks, then sit down and type up a horrendous first draft.
After that comes the real work: editing. Every time I catch a word omission or a Spell Check escapee, I feel like I’ve been given a retraction reprieve. When I go over the piece again, eliminating awkward phrases and unnecessary fluff, I feel even better, like I’m doing my part to keep the world safe from tedium.
Editing is good. Editing is fun. The hard part is stopping. That phrase may have been good, and this one is better, but somewhere out there is an elusive “best” that often doesn’t show up until way past deadline.
It’s the story of my life. If a salesperson’s motto is “Always Be Closing” (ABC), mine is “Always Be Editing,” ABE. Or maybe it’s ABC after all, “Always Be Critiquing.”
My husband Harold would say “Always Be Criticizing,” but I don’t think I’m that harsh. Of course, even as I’m typing this, I’m backspacing and redoing, backspacing and redoing again.
Editing, re-editing. It’s a bit of an obsession (along with my Starbucks iced green tea). I constantly edit my wardrobe, my filing systems, the steps I go through to clean the bathroom. I lie awake nights pondering how I can fix and tweak and adjust the knobs of my everyday life so things will be easier/faster/ more pleasing to behold.
I edit the path I cut through the grocery store, the route I take to accomplish my errands, the goal being to use less gas and get the ice cream home without meltdown. In restaurants and shopping malls, at some point I invariably turn to Harold and say, “You know what they need here…” Even at Disney World, purportedly the happiest place on earth, I threw out a string of suggestions I was sure would make the place just the teensiest bit happier.
Or not. I could be wrong. That happens a lot. So most of the time I edit my conversation and keep these flashes of brilliance to myself. My daughter calls it “self-monitoring.” I like that phrase even better (edit). When thoughts jump out of my mouth without passing through the self-monitoring filter, there’s always the potential for things to go horribly wrong. Wouldn’t it be great if you could backspace and redo every conversation, delete those regrettable slip-ups or upgrade to a wittier retort? Take Two would be so much better.
Editing, re-editing — overall, it’s a handy neurosis to have. If we didn’t operate with at least a mild sense of dissatisfaction, we’d all still be gathered around the fire gnawing on a mastodon bone. Wait … I should have said a pteradactyl bone. Pteradactyl is funnier. Backspace and redo.
So, as I said, I’m sorry about the “was not” in the Sept. 13 issue. I “wasn’t” thinking. Oh … in case you’re looking to go back and correct it, that was the issue from Sept. 13, 1990, my very first column. ABE.