The Cuts

Back when I started my current WIP it was a entirely different sort of beast. Very dark, very edgy, very depressing. It was sort of like a slow torturous climb towards a depressing conclusion and then a fast, unrelenting tumble towards an even more depressing conclusion. I quite liked it. My beta readers quite liked it. I’m not sure why but perhaps it was the thrill we all get watching a human train wreck unfold before our eyes. After a lot of thought and the completion of, I think, three other manuscripts (one which is shelved forever, one which may be taken out and dusted off some day, and one which has a bright and hopeful future) I went back in, changing the narrative to first person and the tone from darkly depressing to somewhat edgy and teen-centric. It worked before but it works better now. I couldn’t really tell you exactly what I changed but whatever small screw or gear it was, it held the entire mechanism. Instead of reading like an over-wrought literary piece of shocking expose, the voices are real, and there is humor. Humor is such a great way to alleviate mood, and it helps if your narrator has some and dispenses it on occasion. What I do when I go back into a manuscript and start from the beginning is I just start writing over the original draft. This is how I visualize it. You tell me if you can see it this way too. The new words/paragraphs/chapters start to pile up and they push the old words/chapters/paragraphs ahead of them, sort of like a snow plow. There is the old, dingy gray snow and here is the new, gleaming snow, and slowly but surely (since I am good about my 1000 words/day) I accumulate a story. Keeping the old stuff hanging around at the back increases the word count (especially encouraging at the beginning), comforts me with the knowledge that I can dip in and rescue something really good from the first draft, and keeps me on track as far as the sequence of the plot goes. I must admit that this is all mostly a placebo. I hardly ever recycle anything. But I need to know it’s there if I need it. Once I’m done with the new first draft, I lop off the old first draft and save it in a file called ‘Cuts’ or sometimes ‘Edits’. Note- I will probably never use any of the stuff that ends up in this file, but I can’t merely delete it. Maybe it’s the fear that I had it right the first time. Maybe I attach a ridiculous value to my sentences. Maybe it’s just that the original idea and format were inspiring enough to make me write and finish it, and that’s enough reason to send it to the elephant’s graveyard rather than a trash can.