The Mark Blog

Save it For a Rainy Day

Last week I wrote about slaughter. This week, I write about saving. Contradictory? Not really. As much as I have enjoyed trimming the fat off the novel, I have also discovered that there are some things I cut, only to put them back in later. I realize this is confusing when we are talking about writing.

You are bound to ask, “Are you saying, Monica, that you delete things only to put them back in later? Sounds like you’re not really editing, then.”

Oh, but I am. I realized I have two types of edits: the highlight and delete, and the highlight, copy, and delete. The first category, highlight and delete, is saved for those sentences, words, and phrases that make me cringe upon re-reading. These are the wince-inducing passages that make me wonder, “What was I thinking when I wrote this?” Like when I see that one picture of myself with a turquoise bandana tied around my permed hair, as if I had just auditioned for Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical” video. These passages in my writing get shot out into the atmosphere along with my perm and my turquoise bandana.

Then, there is the highlight, copy, and delete category. This is the passage or scene that is not working where it is, but your intuition calls out, “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” when your finger hovers over the delete button. It’s the peevish writer voice that mentions that whatever you're deleting might be worth something someday. It commands you to open another document and paste your rubbish there in case you want to look at it one day.

I encountered this recently while revising. There was a section in my novel that wasn’t working, a part I considered a dead zone, and I decided to cut it.  But because of that little voice, I saved that scene, not quite convinced it should be gone forever. As I was revising that section of the novel again, and after I made several more cuts elsewhere, the scene went back in (with some rewriting).

Making cuts to other parts of the novel gave the scene in question a whole new complexion and impact. It also did a lot of back-story work in a small space. I hesitated to put something back in, thinking that, if I didn’t need it before, why would I need it now? But the pruned section showed me that the scene was more compelling and necessary when I cleared away all the prose that obscured it.

The lesson is: listen to your intuition. If the writerly voice inside of you is telling you to save something for later, do it. I have fine-tuned my ability to know what I can scrap forever and what I can toss into the junkyard for future use. So go ahead, save some of your darlings - they might be worth something one day.