I love throwing things out.
I know that’s not exactly a sustainable admission, but I much prefer to see things going out the door than coming in (and then going through the whole routine of trying to figure out where to put them). Of course, that doesn’t stop me from acquiring more things over the long term—perhaps I just see that as another opportunity further down the road to exercise my love for paring.
I guess, whether it’s words or things, I’m an editor.
This past weekend Mike and I did some rearranging. The office upstairs (which neither of us uses) has been converted back into a guest bedroom. We’re going to need it in October, when our friends Scott and Jay and Jodi and Dave come to visit. My bed from my old house has been brought back upstairs, and the amazing quilt that my mother made for me several years ago is now back on display. (I’ll see if I can find a picture of it.) The desks have been moved downstairs to the basement, Mike bought an area rug, and we’ve set up space down there for an office if we need it.
Naturally, this is a perfect opportunity for me to Get Rid of Stuff.
I started last week with my CDs. I buy most of my music online (thanks, Steve Jobs) so having the CDs taking up valuable shelf space is a waste. (And I found a resale shop that will give me a little change for some of them.) Next up will be most of the Star Trek stuff. I don’t want to think of the amount that I spent on all of it, but it’s time to put aside childish things and free up the space—well, time to put aside most childish things. I plan to keep Captain Janeway.
After that, I might even, if I’m crazy enough, start going over the bookshelves.
I blame this (maybe “blame” is too strong a word; perhaps “attribute”) on my upbringing. Moving around every four years or so meant I became well accustomed to packing and unpacking—and realizing that the less you keep, the less work it takes. Plus, after a while it becomes a challenge: what can you do without? What do you really need? How much do you have to take away to get down to basics?
Writing is like that too. I’ve been reworking a story that I wrote several years ago to see if it would work for an anthology. When I read this story to my writing group back then, they loved it. When I read it to my advanced fiction writing class three years ago, they justifiably eviscerated it. When I read it to myself, I cringed.
When I rewrote it, it became a completely different story.
Well, not completely. The characters are the same, the outcome is similar, but everything from the beginning to the end is, basically, new. It’s also one-third shorter. And I think it’s a better story.
Something similar happened with the novel last week. I was reading the last half of chapter six to my writing group, and I could tell it was going off the rails. What is this doing in here? I asked myself. Who wrote this crap?
Oh yeah. I did. However, I wrote it three drafts ago and the story has been flipped around completely since then. It wasn’t until I read it out loud (and my friend Cindy said, “Something needs to happen soon”) that I realized it needed to go. So I got rid of a character and 2,200 words in one chop.
The way I write, the first draft is usually the story plus a whole lot of other junk. Successive drafts are often all about whittling. Sometimes I add more, but usually it gets shorter. I cut away as much as I can until I can see the story, then (hopefully) I stop.
By the time I’m done rearranging, I’ll still have an embarrassing amount of stuff. But maybe if I get rid of some of the clutter, I’ll see my life more clearly.