Taking the Scissors
I got a lot of use out the delete button over the past month while working on my thesis novel.
So far, the thesis process has gone down more or less like this:
- Draft one: 60,000 words. Written over two summers, including all the outlining and such.
- Draft two: 89,000 words. Included considerable cutting, so I added well over 30,000 words on the second draft, mainly for plot and character development. Written over one summer—one month, really.
- Draft three: 66,000 words. I did a few thousand words of cutting at the end of the summer, but mainly this was done over the Christmas break. Included three or four new scenes, but basically it was a cull.
And how sweet the cull is.
I did not cut any chapters. Maybe one or two small scenes went. This was good, old-fashioned dross excision. Big chunks of exposition got the turf, excessive adverbs and adjectives, saying the same thing three ways in case the reader didn’t get it the first time, wordy constructions, all that jazz. It’s by no means perfect – I expect many more drafts to come – but on my way to getting this good enough for thesis submission, I’m pleased with the operation.
I always knew it was theoretically possible to edit away a quarter (at least) of one’s shitty draft without losing anything. I can now vouch that this is true. Same story, three-quarters of the words.
Of course, I’ve still got those words somewhere. O, all those archived files of words we decide not to use! Not to mention all the half-written and abandoned Facebook posts. (Apparently, Facebook keeps them all. Somewhere.)
Before we had a computer at home, we had an electric typewriter with eraser tape. You could backspace and delete letters. This was exciting. When the roll of eraser tape was done, you could unroll it and examine all the letters that had been erased. My sister used to keep all the old rolls. She called it her collection of mistakes.