Of Rewrites and Trees
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
~Joyce Kilmer, Trees
This morning, I sat at my kitchen table and as usual, gazed out at the backyard view from my picture window. But there was something unusual out there, by the fence. Something I hadn’t noticed. Do you see those trees? The ones bursting with fall color?
I’d never seen them before.
Now, how in the world could I have missed something as spectacularly beautiful as those trees? And then I realized that for as long as I’d lived in my house, we’d had two other trees—massive trees—blocking the view. My husband had insisted we take them down this past summer before they fell down, and I was not at all happy. I loved those trees.
I loved their towering strength, the full and lush canopy of green that shaded my deck, the sturdy branches that housed squirrels and backyard birds. But the trees were infested with a creeping rot on the inside and in the last few years, the canopy was less lush, the branches more bare.
Still, I’d resented the felling of those trees. That is, until I looked out my window and saw the new beauty that had been hidden from my view. Once again, I fell in love with a couple trees.
And because I’m a writer, deep into a revision during National Novel Writing Month (with only a week to go!), I couldn’t help seeing the metaphor. I thought of all the lovely paragraphs—whole passages, entire chapters—that I’ve cut from my manuscript.
Oh, I know that expression, “kill your darlings.” I’m well aware that we fall head-over-heels for our words. After all, we’ve lovingly crafted them and pressed them to our bosom. We have a relationship! So, yes, it’s hard to kill our darlings.
But goodness! This hasn't been a ‘darling’ here or a ‘sweetie’ there that I’ve chopped out of the manuscript. It feels as if I’ve gutted the story, and in the process, I’ve gutted me. And yet, I knew when I started the rewrite that I’d be getting rid of most of the manuscript. I wasn’t at all happy.
The day we cut the trees, I was just…forlorn. Pitifully sad, as the dictionary defines it. And every time I cut massive chunks from my manuscript, I feel the same way. But I know that the only way to get to the story I want to tell is to start fresh, to quit relying on original passages I loved. To stop fiddling with the old words trying to make something new of them.
It’s a drastic measure, rewriting an entire novel. And if you’re in the midst of a rewrite—or questioning whether one is needed for your current work-in-progress, I feel for you. Consider carefully before you start cutting, but don’t be afraid to get rid of what’s not working.
Because beneath the cuts, you might find new beauty—and once again, fall in love with what you see.
~Cathy C. Hall