On Editing

Bill stood and opened the lid to the toilet, unscrewed the top off the bottle of red nail polish, and poured the flamboyant color into the water. When he flushed, it swirled around like spin art and disappeared down the drain. He threw the empty bottle into the trash and covered it with used tissues like a murderer hiding his weapon.

“I don’t think nail polish would behave like that,” my editor says. “I don’t think it would spin and go down the drain.”

I deflate, bonded to the image my brain had concocted. Could she be right? Am I prepared to offer up my own toilet bowl as a guinea pig?

I sit on her note for a long time, but finally my curiosity speaks and demands resolution. I open my bathroom medicine chest and locate the two bottles of nail polish I own. I opt for the tiny container of light blue thinking that if something goes wrong, the color is more subtle. I unscrew the top and tip it sideways to peer inside. The contents are all dried out. Useless. I reach for the other bottle. Blood red like in my story. I give it a good unifying shake. Plenty of liquid within.

I close the sink drain and fill the basin with a couple inches of water considering it a more manageable locale to navigate than the toilet bowl. Slowly I pour in a few drops of polish. More dramatic than spin art, the color scurries across the surface separating into odd flat creatures that get me thinking of amoeba. Some race to the edges and cling to the porcelain. I stare for a moment and then release the drain. The water descends leaving behind all the red – filmy and flat – to decorate my sink.


I quickly reach for nail polish remover, splash it onto tissue, and rub away. Some comes off easily. Some hangs onto the basin. With a little elbow grease, my sink returns to its original white.

Time for a rewrite.

Bill stood and opened the lid to the toilet, unscrewed the top off the bottle of red nail polish, and poured the flamboyant color into the bowl. The color dispersed quickly dancing on the surface of the water, splitting into odd-shaped particles that resembled amoeba. He flushed. The color clung to the porcelain walls as if mocking his desire to banish it. Bill sighed and vowed to deal with it later. He threw the empty bottle into the trash and covered it with used tissues like a murderer hiding his weapon.

I thank my editor for catching my creative gaffe. I’m still learning about the writing world, about what literary editors offer and how they work. Through the many years of my career as a film editor, I encountered the question, “So you get to decide what to take out of a movie?” and I’ve had to explain that film editing isn’t really the act of ‘taking out.’ That comes in at a point, but film editing is the act of putting a film together, that every time the image on the screen changes, an editor made a cut. As editors, we sit with miles of film (now in digital format) broken down by scene. We have assorted angles to work with from wide shot to two shot to close ups, over the shoulders and inserts of objects. We pour through it all selecting performances and figuring out where to be during each moment of a scene. Do we want to watch the speaker speak or the listener listen? Where does the heart of the moment reside? At what point do we go in tight for emphasis? When do we pull back for air?

To me editing is the act of creating visual music. What motivates a cut is often the editor’s sense of rhythm. We work with the director to incorporate his/her notes and desires, and then are sent off to “do what you do.” And what we do includes little tweaks of frames here and frames there, mere fractions of seconds that if left untouched make an editor squirm.

I have been away from editing for nearly two years. It’s trying to lure me back due to less than stellar progress in the writing arena and a bank account that’s crying, “Foul.” My heart wishes it could keep thinking of spin art nail polish and dancing amoeba blobs. I’d love to know that this blind walk down an unmarked path will get me through the woods, but the reality is that right now I know nothing. And going on when we know nothing is the real art of life. Saying ‘no’ to a paying job because I must get Amber and Cassidy, my newest born characters, through their lives is a leap of faith, and these days I’m finding it easier to help them find their way than to find my own.


Delton said...

As I was reading the original version, I found myself wondering if that was how nail polish would act too. I don't think I'd be willing to test it out with my wife's polish or anything, but I'd wonder. I love the rewrite.

I hope you keep at writing. Even if real world considerations draw you back for a while, or "less than stellar progress" causes some discouragement, you've got a talent for weaving words too.

QT said...

I know it can be discouraging, but you have to keep at it. You have a wonderful voice that will be appreciated.

I understand about the paid gigs, tho....

BOB13 said...

Don't give up! Re-read your favorite pieces. Take a look at all the glowing praise you've generated here. "Less than stellar progress" doesn't mean you shouldn't or can't make it to the next level. Keep knocking on doors. Eventually one will open.

Peter Clothier said...

Nice piece of writing, Deezee. Good to know nothing, that's what opens up the path to everything! It's been a while since I stopped by, but I'll try to be here more often. Cheers, Peter

Anonymous said...

It didn't even occur to me that the nail polish wouldn't react the way you first described...I like to believe you're luring me in enough that I don't need those technical details, feh.

It's easy for me to sit here and encourage you to keep on writing. You've got a gift with words Dee and while faith is hard to muster, I hope you continue to believe in yourself as we do.