Monday, February 13, 2012

The Price of Beauty or How to Embrace Editing - Sarah Thomas

Last fall we were having perfect autumn weather--it was in the 70s, the sky was a brilliant blue and the leaf color was at its peak. How could we not go outside? So outside my husband and I went to hike in Pisgah National Forest with Thistle testing the limits of her leash.

The Forest Service logged the area where we often hike not long ago. Now, I’m in favor of harvesting timber. When done right, it’s good for the forest, good for the trees and reduces the likelihood of forest fires. Still. Having hiked those woods for 10 years or so I felt a little sentimental about certain spots. Say the sighing pine that told me we were nearing the bottom of a trail. Or the huge log where we used to leave walking sticks propped for our next visit. Or the little side trail that had showy orchis blooming along its edge each spring.

As we made our way up the trail, most of the forest was unchanged. But I knew that once we took the steep, descending trail, it would pop us out into a lower area that had been almost completely clear-cut. I would miss certain landmarks and knew I would have to squint and use my imagination to recognize the trail that once was.

So I was bracing myself as we stepped into the edge of the timbered area. The forest service did a nice job of thinning the trees at the border of the cut to create a more gentle transition. And there, beyond those last few trees, was an unexpected gift. The wide open view allowed us to see the mountains ablaze with October color as the sun sank toward the horizon. One prominent fold glowed with light while the next fold receded into velvet shadow. Even Thistle seemed content to sit a moment. Perhaps the loss of the sighing pine was a fair trade after all.

And that’s how I try to look at editing my manuscripts. Yes, I’m attached to the scene with the old family veterinarian. I just love that guy! But will the scene help my readers see the bigger picture? Or will it lose them down a rabbit trail? Can cutting those paragraphs give readers a glimpse of a panoramic view? If it can, then the vet has to go.

The forest service didn’t finish their logging operation in a day, a week or even a month. It took time to plan the cut and to execute it. But the result is a healthier forest with a view that makes me feel a little sorry for people who live in flat places.

So. I’ll be taking a chainsaw to my manuscript once again. Got to get the deadwood out. Got to free up that amazing view.

Sarah Loudin Thomas is seeking publication of her novel, The Memory of Drowning. She has written articles for magazines and newspapers including Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine, The Asheville Citizen Times and The Journey Christian Newspaper. Her poetry has appeared in Now & Then, Appalachian Heritage and The Pisgah Review. A member of ACFW, she maintains a blog at