Saturday, April 26, 2014

Decluttering my Manuscript

Although I don’t have as much time for television nowadays, there was a time when I loved watching reality shows about anything related to houses.  One of my big addictions was watching shows about professional home organizers and the crazy people who hired them. I found it fascinating to watch these homeowners sort through a life’s worth of belongings and place them into neat little piles. It must have been the psychologist in me.

I haven’t seen one of those shows in awhile, but one cleaning trick used by the professionals has stuck with me. The experts would make the homeowners sort their belongings into piles such as Keep, Donate, and Trash. To me, however, the most interesting pile was the “Holding” pile. The idea was to put anything that you were unsure about into this pile and leave it there for one week.  If you didn’t miss it in that week then you didn’t need it. The homeowners always hated this pile and argued about why they needed their old broken lamp or used coffee maker. However, it almost always turned out that the homeowners completely forgot about their supposedly precious belongings once they were out of sight, and later had no issue throwing them away.

Now that I’ve been revising and editing my manuscript for a little while, I’ve noticed a parallel between decluttering a room and ‘decluttering’ a novel. Most certainly, there are huge swaths of the first draft that I can immediately drop into the Trash pile…a depressing amount of text actually.  And, every once in awhile, I’ll find a passage or conversation that I want to put in the Keep pile.  Many times though, I’ve found myself using the Holding pile. I’ll read over a page and know that certain paragraphs aren’t working. I tell myself to just delete them and start again, but I can’t bear to throw them away.  I’ll highlight the text, my finger hovering over the backspace key, and then decide to copy it into another document instead.  It’s such a relief to know that work is still accessible, just in case I need it. The funny thing is, just like those homeowners, I always think I’ll need it. I convince myself that I’ll come back to a certain line again or use a description somewhere else in the book.  In reality, that new document is where words go to die.  I’ve never been able to use anything that I’ve copied over there and it’s rare that I even reread the passages once I copy them.  Nonetheless, I still like knowing the words are there if I want them.

 After thinking about it, I’ve decided that the process is a little like mourning. By putting the words in my holding pile, instead of the trash pile, it gives me a bit of time to grieve before I can move on.

I guess it’s like purgatory for words.

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