Monday, November 9, 2009

The Haunting

A professor of mine once told me that everything we cut from a MS haunts it. The weight and sense and soul of what we cut lingers in our work, even if it isn't visible on the page - Sarah over at Slushbusters included this quote in her post about The Scenes We Leave Out.

For whatever reason, the quote resonated with me - very deeply. I mean, I've been cutting like crazy from Margarita Nights lately, and from other projects that I'm working on as well right now. I never delete the stuff I cut, I carefully paste it into a document called Omitted Sections. I never know when something in that paragraph, or chapter (that's happened a time or two), I cut, might come in handy at some later date, or in some future project. So, I keep everything.

But, the keeping of everything is not the point of this post. I'm really not sure if there's a point to this post. Perhaps the quote is the main point of this post.

When I edit, it's like going to the dentist for a root canal - I don't want to do it, it's going to hurt, and I'm going to be all swollen afterwards.

Okay, revising is not that bad, but sometimes when I'm cutting out a paragraph here, there, and everywhere, it is very painful. It's never easy to take out swaths of writing in one fell swing of the scythe. These words, sentences, and paragraphs, are a part of me. I poured endless hours into my writing. Every. Single. Word. Is. Brilliant!

Okay, maybe not, which is the whole point of the revision process. Sometimes, though, we have to take out things that are truly special because they really don't do anything for the story.

Sarah at Slushbusters put it this way about a particular scene she cut: it wasn't part of my story but it set the stage for the story.

I've eliminated a great many paragraphs that set the stage for the story, but weren't really a part of the story. In the revision process of another project, I've cut out major, major bunches of stuff from the first few chapters. In fact, I've pretty much cut those first few chapters in half.

Now, the stuff I'm taking out is part of the story, but it really wasn't needed in those first few chapters. There are parts of the stuff I cut that I will incorporate later in the book. There are other parts that will just remain a part of the first draft and not the later drafts. In the end, though, the weight and sense and soul of what we cut lingers in our work, even if it isn't visible on the page.

It's okay to delete huge passages. It's okay to delete chapters. It's okay to . . . delete, delete, and delete some more, because the intent of the writing in the first place remains.



Jody Hedlund said...

Oh Wow, Scott! I love your post today, because it's exactly what I'm dealing with!! Our posts today really compliment each other! :) I like the idea of saving the parts we slash into a separate file. I don't edit my original work. I usually edit a "saved as" copy. So somewhere I still have the original parts. But I like the idea of having a specific file of those parts that I cut! Thanks for that idea!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Really good quotes and thoughts in this post, Scott. Thanks. I especially like the idea of haunting, lingering out of sight. It makes the cutting process less painful, I think.

Scott said...

Jody - you're welcome. I had read your post before I found the one at Slushbusters, and everything just seemed to fit together nicely. I'm like you - with each editing phase, I save the file under a new name (Project Name - First Draft, Project Name - Second Draft, and so on). I figure one day, at the end of my very long life and publishing career, I can publish a book detailing the various draft phases and show what was cut out of the book. I bought all the Tolkien books that showed the various stages The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings went through. It was very interesting.

Tricia - the haunting/lingering really stuck with me, and inspired my post for today, and, like you wrote, really makes the process less painful. : )


Anonymous said...

Scott, I use a file for cuts, too. And I've gone back and taken snippets from the cuts when it became apparent that I needed them.
I like your idea about the intent of the writing remaining.

Michelle said...

Sarah is awesome. One of the other Slushbusters, I forget who, had a similar piece a long while back. Sarah mentioned it then, too, about how the ghost of what you cut remains.

My take on it is that your readers don't need this scene, but you need it. You wrote it to help you know more about your characters, and having that knowledge helps you bring more to the scenes that your readers will need. Whenever I've read something like this from someone in our group, the work that comes later, the actual story, always has more depth.

Amy Allgeyer Cook said...

You know, Scott, I never thought of this but it's so true. All that backstory we slave over and want to incorporate is already in evidence. It shows in our fully fleshed characters and our detailed settings. Great post! :)

B.J. Anderson said...

So very true, Scott. And I used to get really bent out of shape when I edited things. Now, I try to look at it as objectively as I can, and I always come out with a better product. It doesn't hurt so badly anymore. If only that were true for root canals.

Robyn Campbell said...

How'd you get so smart? I love the idea of omitted sections doc. Now I'm going to be doing that. I love swiping your ideas! Bwa ha ha ha!

I actually have done a little of it since you told me about it a while back. See? I DO listen!

I will finish your critique tomorrow on the way to the hospital. I'll send it Wed. morning. :)Another great post.

Tess said...

I just recently started using an out file for my deleted work. I learned about it somewhere on the bloggosphere and it has been super helpful. No more tearing my hair out trying to remember that perfect phrase.

Bethany Wiggins said...

You're the author of MArgarita Nights?!!! I read your first 250 words months ago on a blog contest! (That is assuming that two people aren't writing a book with the same title.) I gave you a good review.

Nice post. I have cut a lot. I don't know if it will haunt the manuscript overall, but it haunts me every time I read it. Is the manuscript better for it? Yes. But it's like cutting off my arm. Even though it's not there, I can still feel it itching every once in a while.

Scott said...

Paul - the idea about the intent remaining goes to Sarah's professor, but the idea stuck with me. No matter what we delete, the essence of our writing remains. I sometimes think as the deleted sections as the temporary support beams used when putting up walls in houses. Once the main walls are up, the temporary supports are removed . . . and yet the house doesn't fall down.

Michelle - I totally agree. I think a lot of what we delete is necessary at some point in the writing process, just not necessary in the final product.

Amy - I think many writers (okay, me) have a tendency to put in too much backstory. Sometimes, a little goes a long way.

B.J. - I don't think there's any help for root canals. Revising is a part of writing, and we can either accept or deny that little fact. : )

Robyn - as I tell my sisters all the time: I was just born this smart, and I'm also the favorite child. Ha!

Tess - I'm with you on the no more tearing my hair out. Genetics are playing havoc with my hair, but I must say, my brother got the bald gene, while I got the recede gene. Ooops, better knock on wood!! Sometimes, I really love the sections I cut, and I always hope I can use them somewhere else, even if it's in another novel.

Bethany - yeah, I'm the author of Margarita Nights. If you scroll through this blog, you'll find a few posts dedicated solely to that project. I must say, the opening has changed quite a bit since the contest on MSFV. Everybody's advice really helped me take a closer look at my opening.

My writing is a part of me. I put in so much energy/emotion, that even the deletion of a single sentence is sometimes painful. I move past that pain with the hope that every cut makes my manuscript a bit better, a bit tighter, and so brilliant that there's not an agent in existence who could resist my project. Ha!