Friday, July 13, 2012

Learning to Part with Your Words

This has been a craaaazy month!

First, I became an uncle (for the first time) to the most beautiful niece in the world. She's tiny and adorable, and the first time I held her, she peed all over me, and I even thought THAT was adorable.

Second, I moved last weekend. And that was tough. I'd been in my old apartment for two years, and I accumulated a ton of stuff. I had to pack in 100 degree, 100% humid weather. And then moving day was a never-ending nightmare in itself filled with multiple cargo van trips from old place to new place. By the middle of the day, I was exhausted, my arms sore -- and I still had another truckload! While I was schlepping my cargo back and forth, I kept saying "Why do I have all of this crap?" Seriously. I'm not a hoarder. I think I have a normal level of possessions for someone my age. But why did it feel like somuch and so unnecessary? I began throwing out and donating old stuff -- clothes, DVDs, books, random items that once had sentimental value, but were now crap. I took no prisoners. I refused to buy into my self-rationalization that yes, I would wear this shirt again.

Moving felt a lot like editing. There are plenty of places to cut from when we edit. We accumulate "junk" over the first and second drafts -- unresolved subplots, minor characters that serve no purpose, scenes that are now unessential. I found different types of items I had to throw out in my move, just like there are different kinds of edits:

The easy stuff: When going through my apartment, I found plenty of easy choices of junk to toss. Shirts with holes in them. Pencaps with no pens. This is the fun, easy part of editing. I could already think of three things I would cut from a draft before I even finished it. No problem. Editing will be easy.

The wishywashy stuff: These are things in my apartment that I knew I had to throw out, but I had to give myself a little push. I was still a bit hesitant. Yes, they were goners, but I had to defend them. I owned a pair of dusty, moldy slippers. Gross, but comfortable. I've owned the same bedsheets for 10 years. Their color and comfort level faded some time ago. Buh bye. In editing, we refer to this as Killing Your Darlings: the easy version. Yes, there are scenes or characters or couplets of dialogue that you LOVE. But they don't fit your story anymore. Most times, the scenes that I first think of, that ignite a story idea within me, are usually the ones that get cut. But I'm not too sad about it, because even though I love them, I know it's for the best.

The difficult stuff:  I throw out/gave away things that I loved, things that weren't too old or too dirty. I had nice slacks that were too big on me now, a pair of leather shoes I bought in Spain, a dining room table in great condition. But in the end, the slacks didn't fit anymore, the shoes weren't comfortable, and I got a new, nicer table. In short, I moved on. I'm not the same person I was when I got those things. I can't be one of those people who holds onto every thing I've ever owned. When I edit, I've had to cut sections I loved, parts that had no discrenible problems, per se. But the book I was writing when I wrote those passages was not the same book I ended with. My story developed, changed, and I couldn't bring along every word. You can't get tied permanently to what you write. You have to be strong enough and confident enough in your hard edit choices. I figure that if I wrote something great in the past, I can do it again in the future, or else I have no business being a writer.