Addition by Subtraction: Break out the Red Pen of Justice!

As you Write Your Own Story, it becomes clear that the things you leave out are just as important as the things you include. Addition by subtraction. Editing, both in writing and in Real Life, are critical steps that are often overlooked.

When I get hit with a terminal case of Writer’s Block (frequently, I am sad to report), I often refer back to my Joseph Campbell for inspiration. I found myself looking over the Hero’s Journey yesterday, and I had a very minor epiphany, but like a contestant on Jeopardy, it arrived in the form of a question. Why do Heroes so frequently leave home to undertake a Quest and emerge Transformed? Why is the Quest necessary?

A number of answers raised their hand:

  • The Hero must leave his/her comfort zone in order to change
  • The Hero must broaden his/her horizons in order to grow or evolve
  • There typically aren’t Dragons or Giants to slay at home (Domestic rodents and visiting in-laws don’t count)

“What’s cuter than me?
@#$% nothing, that’s what.”

These all make sense, but one other possibility resonated. The Hero has to leave home to remove unnecessary distractions.  The Hero cannot be bothered with the banalities of real life (bills, landscaping, manscaping) or with trite diversions (the Big Game, Honey Boo-Boo, acquiring and displaying cute little Hummel figurines). The Quest itself is a shortcut by writers to strip the Hero of mundane concerns so he/she can focus on the Journey or Heroic Task at hand. Find the Talisman. Seek the Sacred Wisdom. Learn Kung Fu (Whoa).

“I should thank you to refer to me as ‘effete’, or ‘dainty’, possibly ‘fastidious’, certainly ‘finicky’. I would also accept ‘fussy’ or ‘persnickety’. But ‘girly’? Never!”

Real Life is full of distractions, especially if you have ADHD. And, for most of us, leaving all of our Worldly cares behind for months or years or forever to seek Adventure just isn’t practical. Notice that you never saw Frodo Baggins doing any grocery shopping, or dropping off his dry cleaning. I recognize that life is not exactly like a story.

As such, I will not leave my young Family and mortgage payments and thankless Job at home while I undertake a metaphorical Quest, no matter how Glorious. I would prefer to make the Wife and Girls a part of my Traveling Party. Imagine if Luke Skywalker were married and had three kids when he joined Obi-Wan, Han and Chewbacca on the Millenium Falcon. His wife driving from the backseat (“Why are you taking this way to Alderaan?”), the kids playing road trip games (“I spy, with my little eye, a girly gold robot!”). I’m digressing…

So, we can’t cut everything out to focus on our Quest, but, we can edit out lots of unnecessary activities. For example, I am trying to watch less TV to get in more writing. I am also trying to reduce the amount of obligations that I take on. I’m aiming to treat my time as a precious, finite commodity.

Or, maybe there are Characters in your life that are don’t contribute anything of value, or may actually be a hindrance. If possible, write them out of your Story. Break out the Red Pen of Justice! It sounds harsh, but life is all about choices. You may have 500 Facebook friends, but how many are a positive force in your life. Many of them may embroil you in petty drama, un-Heroic disputes, gossip, etc.  In stories and films, only the essential Characters, those that contribute to the plot, are introduced. You never meet Odysseus’ accountant, and you don’t hear a solilioquoy by Neo’s college roommate in The Matrix. Why shouldn’t your life have a similar kind of focus on the things and people that truly matter?

As you are efforting and sweating and pushing towards your Goals, whatever they may be, ask yourself: who or what is most important to me, and maybe more to the point, who or what isn’t?

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