Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Refile to the Recycle Bin

On Monday, I mentioned the idea of scraping off the paint -- undoing what one has done -- in the effort to create art. I think this is fitting. Sometimes, it seems to me, that the biggest part of editing is not finding the right word to put on the page -- though that is important -- but actually finding all the words that do not belong on the page, and getting rid of them.

In a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934, Hemingway wrote, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” Yes, even Hemingway produced some bad writing. No one is immune.

He's not alone in cutting the rubbish. John Green claims the best part of his books come out in the revisions and that he's lucky to use 10% of the original draft.

Sometimes, the key to good writing is just cutting the junk.

While I hope my ratio is slightly better than 1:91, that's sometimes how I feel about my writing. For The Thief Book, a good 70% of the original draft probably made it into the rubbish bin. In my revision of my first draft of Cordamant's Heir, I sliced a good 10k off. And, you know, I really feel both projects were the better for it. The Thief Book just ended wrong, and it all had to go. Cordamant's Heir came in really heavy and contained either plot threads that weren't going anywhere because I didn't want to develop them or had parts that were just redundant.

The first time we write things, they are generally not brilliant. Sometimes, they just need a spit shine. Other times, they need a fair amount of nipping and tucking. Other times, they just need a hacksaw and a trip to the recycle bin.

The trick is telling the junk from the masterpiece.

Do you feel like you end up binning most of your original MS, or are you often able to keep most of what you put down? How do you feel about major cuts?

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