This past weekend I attended of poetry reading at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. The poet I went to hear was my friend and poetry mentor Kevin Pilkington. During his remarks, Kevin said that when he writes he sweats over every sentence, every phrase, every word, every comma, and every period. In poetry, that's what you have to do. Each word must work. If it doesn't, it must be replaced or deleted.
Certainly the same applies to prose. When editing my fiction or nonfiction, I sometimes find myself keeping certain words or phrases that I personally think are brilliant -- poetic, almost. Yet while I try to justify the retention, my internal editor's voice is screaming at me: Doesn't belong here! Not working! Delete! Delete! Delete!
All writers -- poets, journalists, fiction writers -- need to listen carefully to that internal editor. And we all need to do what Kevin does: Sweat it out until you get it right.
To read more about Kevin's views on the writing life and process, check out this interview. To enjoy the results of his process, check out one of his collections. Here's my favorite, so far.