You Can’t Trim the Fat off a Hog You Don’t Have

BrianIf you are a vegetarian or avoid pork, don’t let the title stop you. This article won’t incite carnivorous cravings—at least I don’t think so. My brother-in-law Clark is a long time vegetarian, and when he visits, we cook his soups and stews separately from ours. He’s not harsh on us, just hopes to outlive us. One day he said, “The one meat I miss is bacon.”

Hogs make a nice analogy for writing. I revise a lot of old articles in my files, many of them ghastly wordy, with too many points. As you can guess, revising includes butchering. “Yikes, I’m cutting my own words, dropping out ideas.”


But it’s unrealistic to think that writing means one sitting during which a completed piece of writing appears in its best and final form. It can happen, but it’s not a routine expectation.

This brings me to free-writing—writing without a conscience. No rules apply. It does help if you know what you mean when you reread it. Free-writing opens paths to the paper for creative thoughts that might stay stuck or hidden inside without the conscience being shut off.

Later, you can cut, revise, and edit at will. But you can’t trim the fat off a hog you don’t have. That hog can be enormous on the front end and trimmed as lean as needed for your writing aim.

One summer, after Tandy and I kept the grandkids for ten days, I procrastinated about writing my usual journal of stories about the visit. I thought, “Maybe I just won’t write a journal this time.” That bothered me. Why would I capitulate? I had started but was treating it way too formally, making it tedious to do, so I tabled it.

Journal 20090109

That’s all it took: “I’m going to write without rules.” A stream of stories poured out. Later, I went back and “fixed” my mistakes and did some revision, resulting in a piece of writing for our family archives.

It was scary though to think that the stories almost didn’t get written because of the laborious hindrance that multitasking on the front end poses.

Let the hog get fat and gross without a conscience. The butcher will have something to work with later.


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