Closet-Cleaning and First Drafts
See, I don’t have room in my closet for all the seasons of clothes. And so this week, I carried all the winter clothes—the sweaters, the flannel shirts, the heavy slacks—to another closet, to make room for the cotton skirts, linen blouses, and shorts. It takes longer than you might think because I cull the clothes as I go.
Did I wear this at all in the last six months? Does this really fit or am I just kidding myself? Can I finally throw away this robe I’m keeping because I wore it when I brought my first-born child home?
Yeah. It’s pretty time-consuming. And a little psychologically taxing. But as I sorted and tried on clothes today, I started thinking about writing. Mostly, about the draft I need to revise. And specifically, I considered that maybe I should be as ruthless with my manuscript as I am with my clothes.
Take, for instance, a minor character I’ve stuck in the opening scene of the very first chapter. There she is, along with my protagonist, hogging the spotlight and making a promise I have no intention of keeping, the promise that says to readers, “Ah, this secondary character must be pretty important if she’s in the very first scene.”
Er…I like that character, but she’s not that important. So she needs to go.
And what about this chapter I love and squeezed into the first act? It’s pretty and well-written and definitely interesting. But does it fit in the first act?
Uh…no. It has to go, too. (But I might find a better fit for it later in the story.)
And finally, there’s my weak spot.
Those are the funny bits in my stories, the jokes I’ve included that make me chuckle. But I know (because it’s been pointed out to me a lot) that my funny bits don’t always move the story along. I hate cutting funny bits, but if they want to stay, they have to earn it.
It’s not always easy, taking a good long look at a first draft. But I’m sure you’ll find, like me, that there’s plenty of good writing to keep. That helps when the psychologically taxing moments come along and you have to let go.
(But just to be clear, I will never give up that robe!)
~Cathy C. Hall