Editing Creative Work
Ezra Pound has a poem. It is only two lines long! But… before I tell you all about that, let me tell you about why we’re talking about Ezra Pound!
After a rather long day at the studio preparing for ANOTHER move – followed by 5hours of work with the girlies (almost 4 and 8yrs old) – I ended up at the pub with the man discussing what I could write about this week. Yep, that brainstorming of blog post ideas I spoke of last week? Hasn’t happened yet I’m afraid!
Having work to Edit
On our way to the pub, I shot a fair few photos. I had been planning to shoot some abstract shots of the Barbican buildings now that they’re on my doorstep, but had not yet found the time (sounds familiar right?) despite carrying my digital SLR around with me for several days. So this Sunday evening, I took my camera out for a spin, but decided to change it up a little. I popped on my 180mm macro lens. Yep. 180mm. For those of you that have no idea about photography lenses, that means I am VERY close to whatever I point my lens at. And it’s a heavy beast too, which meant a high ISO was needed as the light was fading. Beautiful, but fading. I wasn’t trigger happy, exactly but I did take quite a few, realising that the possible camera shake from using the heavy lens with no tripod PLUS the blur from the slow shutter speeds would mean that I couldn’t guarantee that any of them would be good enough to post here. The 180mm lens also made me think about the shot I was taking. Where was the best position to stand? How much information from the scene did I want to capture? Would it even work being that close?
I ended up taking 75 photos, and the first edit in camera brought the number down to 61. So there we sat, the man and I, flicking through them. He kept talking about one particular photo, which I’d shot just as a fun thing,yet this photo very much resembles a painting which makes it rather cool. He thought I should write about that, I said one photo wasn’t really saying anything much about creativity. Which is when he pulled out a book of Ezra Pound poetry and plonked it in from of me.
A Little Bit of Ezra Pound
“Evie,” he said, “This is Ezra Pound’s most amazing poem.”
I glanced down. And silently snorted. How could a poem that was only two lines long be considered amazing?
This is it:
IN A STATION OF THE METRO
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Now, I’m not a poet, nor do I read poetry. Well, not of my own accord anyhow. And so reading this just frustrated me. It seemed like such a cop out. Of all the things Ezra Pound could have compared the faces too, why choose petals on a bough?
I closed the book, pushed it back towards the man, and complained. Alas… It turns out that actually, Ezra Pound wrote thirty lines for that poem. He wrote everything he thought, saw and felt from that moment on the metro. Everything his brain felt, imagined, conjured, he wrote about. The thirty lines were filled with detail.
It would have been as Stephen King advocates in his book On Writing:
This first draft – the All-Story Draft – should be written with no help (or interference) from anyone else. (1)
Be Prolific – To Start With
If you want to write, you write EVERYTHING down. If you’re drawing a scene, sketch EVERYTHING down. The difference in tone, shape, the light. Write notes, to refer to later. This is the no holding back moment, where you fill yourself, your notebook, your sketchbook, your camera with whatever you can find to have a great starting point.
And so, finally, to my point. The truly creative act was in cutting down those thirty lines to just two – well three if you include the title. To chop a word here, another word there, take out this line, add a semi colon here. And now, knowing this, I read those few lines and I can imagine what he saw. He has successfully simplified his experience into just twenty words. Reading them now reminds me of being on the subway in New York, on a fast express train, barely catching the blur of passengers waiting on the platform for a slow train. I can now see my memory as he wrote his. And it is perfect.
One more snippet from On Writing, because it is so on-point with the editing:
When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story.” He said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story. (2)
John Gould to Stephen King when he was a youngster
Applying Editing to my Own Photography
And so, with this in mind – that editing is one of the most important lessons in creativity that we can learn – I took that thought and edited through my photos from today’s shoot. From an original 75 down to just 6. This isn’t to say that these 6 photos are the best, or that the remaining 69 are awful. These are six images that had a recurring theme, and so worked well together on the page.
Take away from today: don’t be afraid of doing too much. Yes, if you search online, there are a gazillion people complaining that with the onset of digital photography, nobody stops and thinks about the images they are creating. I’m not advocating that. I’m saying, with whatever you decide to explore – writing. photography, cookery, sewing, drawing – always have (at least) a hazy idea of what you want to do, so you’re not shooting blind in the dark only to come away with nothing. But once you have that tiny spark of an idea – be proliferate in gathering what you need. Because it is important to practise that amazing technique of editing. And so off I go now.. To edit this post! Til next week!
(1) Stephen king – On Writing, Page 209
(2) Stephen king – On Writing, Page 57