Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What To Do With Extra Words

garbage_can2Sometimes I’ve got a real eye for contrarian advice—it just appeals to me. If you’re advising an action completely opposite from what everyone else is touting as the best practice, I’m probably paying pretty close attention to what you’re saying.

So when I came across a post that Thomas S. Roche wrote on The Night Bazaar blog, Ten Things I Did Wrong (which is a great post, with lots of interesting advice) and saw that Thomas sometimes tosses bad writing in the trashcan, I winced.

One of the clichés about being a writer involves the writer frenziedly typing at the old typewriter, with a wastebasket that’s nearly overflowing with crumpled-up paper. But I haven’t had that experience since the early 90s when I tried to write my first manuscript (and failed miserably.)

The advent of word processing has definitely changed the way writers write. We can store tons of unfinished manuscripts on our computers.

Thomas Roche, however, thinks that might be a mistake:

Me? I can’t stop blathering on with weird, insensible drivel, so sometimes I just gotta chuck it or I find yourself in a sea of useless prose. Hard drives seem infinite, until I start rambling, leaving dozens of fragmentary Word files.

Tossing an unsatisfying piece of writing in the trash is a liberating experience — it reminds you that the point is to write it until it’s good, not to cling to it if it sucks.

I know it’s counter-intuitive as all hell, but…try it sometime. It feels good.

Now, if the writing is lousy and it’s part of my manuscript, and I’m just writing the first draft, then I just leave the lousy stuff in there. I’m usually aware it’s awful, but that’s what the first draft is all about. I frequently put notes to myself in the margins of my manuscript using Word’s Track Changes feature. They say things like “fix this,” “find out if this could really happen,” “blah blah blah…write this better,” “find better wording,” etc. I can just move on if I acknowledge it’s bad and that I’ll fix it later.

But I do have lots of bits and pieces of stuff that just didn’t work in my manuscript. Odd ideas, bits of dialogue that don’t fit. I’ll make Word files of these things and sequester them in there. Sometimes I just jot stuff down on paper wherever I am around the house. My husband will walk up to me with a bemused expression and hand me some crumply Post-Its. “I think this is part of your book. There’s stuff about poison and guns on here.” He puts up with a lot. :)

Later, I’ll go through this stuff and wonder what the heck I was thinking. When I’m in the writing groove, these blatherings actually make sense. Out of context, they’re frequently junk. I wonder if I printed out the junkier stuff and had a big bonfire, how that would feel?

Thomas’ advice is contrary to everything I do, though. I carefully document my bad writing in different, dated files. I frequently will pull out the bits of dialogue and the unusual ideas and find a place for them (in a different form and better-written than before) in some other book.

But still—I think Thomas raises an interesting point. Where does it all stop? Maybe, sometimes, I take my own junk too seriously and should give some of it a good toss in the trashcan. Make it overflow, give visitors to my home something to take a look at: “Oh, I see. She was writing…”

Then again…not sure I could do it. :)

How about you? What do you do with the stuff you’ve edited out or that was extraneous material?


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