Friday, May 20, 2011

Write Like the Wind, Edit Like an Architect!

copyright 2011 Natalie Neal Whitefield

When my own children were young, I delighted in finding books for them that were rich in content; I had no difficulty finding any number of delightful offerings until they reached the 8-to-14 year old range. At that point finding suitable literature was a struggle. So my children and I would write our own stories to fill the gap.

After that, of course, JK Rowling changed young adult fiction forever.

I see that niche opening up again. I could be wrong, but it seems Harry Potter and his friends are no longer front and center in this market. I think Young Adult Fiction is ready for something different. Something new, like the series my friend Aaron Lazar is currently writing.

I very much appreciate being given the opportunity to look closely at the first chapters of the first in this series. It’s been a valuable experience for me. Although I have edited articles and stories for magazines and for a small town newspaper, I’ve never worked for a publishing house, and would not pretend to be an experienced editor of young adult fiction. On the other hand, Aaron is a published author. He’s worked with many talented people in the publishing business, and has had the benefit of editorial assistance for copyediting and line editing and final approval of his manuscripts from seasoned professionals. My assessment of the first two chapters of his book is just one person’s opinion, my spontaneous first impressions, which may or may not be helpful to him.

However, Aaron is always helpful to me. What I’ve loved most about Aaron’s writing over the years is captured in a phrase he often uses when writing articles about writing. He so often encourages us to: “Write like the wind!” That phrase captures exactly what happens when we give ourselves complete permission to participate in the creative process.

Thoughts, feelings, and actions spin out upon the page in a vigorous whirl like leaves, swirling in the air, settling in golden glory on the ground. In the very same way, words seem to flow uninterrupted from the source of creativity within the right side of the brain just as art and nature flow uninterrupted from the source of all things.

Our job simply is to do as Aaron says, “Write like the wind.”

The result of this unimpeded way of expressing ideas is a beautiful chaotic passionate pattern of words upon a blank white page. We have not interfered with the flow of creative expression in any way. Instead, we create a treasure trove of ideas and images from which to structure our final story.

Ah, but how to put these precious impressions in order. Now comes the time many of us dread, the rearrangement of ideas from which a final story structure must emerge. It is time for the editing process to begin.

Now we are called upon to switch from using the right side of the brain, the writer’s creative side, to the left side of the brain, our analytical side.

We’ve been enjoying the freedom of writing like the wind; now we often reluctantly begin the discipline of what I like to call, editing like an architect. Where once we were passionate, exuberant and self-expressive, we become cerebral, exacting and controlled.

What a challenge that is.

If we’re writing like the wind, we’re comfortable. For most of us that’s a natural, comfortable way to express ourselves; comfortable is where we most want to be.

Editing like an architect requires the opposite skill set from the one we’ve been using.  The tendency is always to want to go back to that comfortable place. The temptation is to start trying to be creative at the very time we are required to be analytical. That approach simply doesn’t work. We become frustrated. We wonder why we feel uncomfortable.

Neurologically, it’s impossible to use both sides of the brain at the same time; to try to do so causes strain; when we experience conflict and strain our brains shut down. Writer’s block, anyone?

I shall always be grateful to a senior editor at a local newspaper who gave me this piece of kindly advice: Never try to write and edit at the same time.

Many people argue for a continuation of creative free thought and personal expression, during the editorial process. My fellow journalists have always cautioned against this approach. The old hands taught us cubs to know the rules and how to apply them. There are, of course, very few rules for writing; however, there are plenty of rules for editing. Some writers look for creative ways to bend the rules in order to effect innovative change. I have nothing against innovation or change as long as what one is doing strengthens the work, but just as an architect must obtain a waiver if he wishes to use a new building technique that may be in conflict with an existing building code, it is always better to use the tried and true rules of the craft before attempting to break them.

To create an engaging story, I enthusiastically follow my friend Aaron Lazar’s advice to “Write like the wind.” But when engaged in constructing a strong story from all the passionate expressions I’ve scattered upon a page, I hearken back to advice received from crusty old salts in our weekly newspaper’s back room: “Edit like an architect!”  Surely everything else follows.


Natalie Neal Whitefield lives and works in the rugged mountains of central Idaho. While writing her Rocky Mountain Trilogy, she discovered that not only did she have a family story worth telling, but that all families have powerful stories to tell. Currently she acts as an advisor to ranch families and pioneer families in the preparation of their unique family histories. She facilitates the creation of memoirs, magazine articles, family reunion presentations, corporate history projects and film documentary materials.

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Aaron Paul Lazar said...


This is such a lovely article, and you're way too kind to me! Thank you so much and best of luck on your upcoming book(s)!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Aaron. It's always a pleasure to participate with you in discussing the joys and the challenges of writing! ~Natalie