Spring offers the possibility of renewal, and many spiritual rituals have this idea at their center. The secular culture, too, embraces spring with the rite of cleaning, a chance to remove clutter and air out one’s living space. Whether you practice a particular tradition or not, these seasonal rites offer similar lessons as writing.
In the Jewish tradition, with which I’m most familiar, we remove leavened products from our homes and eat matzah for the week of Passover. The removal of the leavened (think fluffy and puffy) is a reminder to be humble and not let the (inflated) ego run the show. Good writing demands the same, that we subsume ourselves to the more universal theme we are trying to communicate, whether it’s a novel, memoir, story or essay. In memoir, this could mean being willing to expose aspects of oneself that ego works hard to protect. And effective writing means not flaunting arcane or sophisticated vocabulary that earns points in academia or cocktail parties, but using as few and as precise words as possible to show, and not tell, the story.
Writing, in turn, has great advice for spring cleaning. Know the phrase, “Kill your darlings?” It refers to those sentences or passages that you might be in love with, or spent hours perfecting, except they are not critical to what you are really trying to say. The prose might be stunning, worthy of oohs and aahs, but if the words don’t serve, out they go! As I contemplate an overstuffed closet, I realize I need to kill a darling pair of pumps I bought for a family event years ago and haven’t worn since. Every so often, I open the box to admire the craftsmanship of the magenta, orange and green leather flowers adorning each shoe. Ego tells me to hang onto them: they were expensive, made in Europe, and oh-so-cute. But they take up valuable space and no longer serve the person I am today. Out they go.
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