Filling Cracks With Gold

Recently, a friend shared an arresting photo on facebook. Since there were many shares, I’m not sure who originally posted it, but the photo and inscription are attributed to Billie Mobayed.

The quoted material, under the photo of a rustic, repaired, and beautifully photographed bowl, indicated that the Japanese fill cracks in damaged objects with gold, thus honoring the history of the object, acknowledging the damage, and making it even more attractive.

It’s occurred to me that, as writers, we can strive to do that as well. Unless you are singularly blessed, the odds are your manuscript, particularly the first draft, will have cracks–those spots where you’ve not chosen the best descriptive words, written go-no-where filler dialogue, or hit what the talented writer and workshop director, Alice Orr, calls the “muddle in the middle.”

When I find those spots in my work, usually after letting it rest for several days, I stare at the offending line, try out a different word, phrase, or expression and sometimes–but not always–improve it. What I’ve come to realize, reluctantly, is that I’m impatient and inclined to do a quick fix, move on, and create new material (which is, of course, a lot more fun). Obviously, hurrying to repair a piece of mediocre writing isn’t a great idea, and usually results in dull prose or poetry–cobbled together and disorienting to the reader.

The cracks and flaws in our writing provide us with an opportunity to turn them into gold. When I do a workshop, I often advise writers to identify the best line in their manuscript, then strive to make every other line that good. But what if we could make the offending lines even better than our best line? What if we take that nondescript line and turn it into a line that sends the dialogue in a new direction; that reveals a hidden truth about our characters or their circumstances; that delights the reader? I’m going to try. Let me know if it works for you.

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