This morning I spent twenty minutes moving three paragraphs to different locations in the text before realizing that the three paragraphs were in the right place the first time: it was the fourth paragraph, the one that ended with a line I loved, a line, to quote TXC, "I'm married to," that was the paragraph that needed to go.
When I was was twenty-four and in graduate school for creative writing, I was never happier than when I was obliterating a line I adored, a line that had been perhaps the impetus for the whole story. It made me feel both purified and unsentimental. You know that thrill of removing a heel mark with Magic Eraser, a mark you've tried everything else on and it just wouldn't go away? It felt even better than that.
I never much liked the initial process of getting the story out in the first place. It's messy, and some of the text that gets me where I want to go is embarrassing to read later. The temptation to edit as I go along is enormous, but ultimately -- for me -- disastrous. That first draft needs to be rambling and self-indulgent and it should frequently veer off topic and contain dead detail that I can reward myself with removing later. It should be too long, because it's impossible to edit nothing.
My dislike of writing that initial draft was so severe that I created rituals to make the process more palatable. I wrote at night, when I was a little tired and less inhibited. First I'd I lock the door, enjoying that satisfying click that meant complete privacy. Before I began writing, I'd put on my special costume: a set of extremely thick, waffled long underwear. Then I'd put on a certain pair of orange crew socks, tucking the cuffs of the long underwear inside the socks. I tucked the top of the long underwear into the pants. Whether my hair was long or short, I'd arrange it so that it was completely out of my field of vision with a terry cloth headband.
I had a very small black and white television set in my very small Los Angeles apartment, and I'd put it on just for the noise: getting the story out was less scary with Columbo on in the background. For my beloved editing I preferred total silence (so that I could read the story aloud and hear how it sounded) and I didn't care what I wore. My only requirement was that I could only edit in hard copy, with a black pen, and then transfer my edits to my Brother word processor: an archaic piece of equipment even in 1989.
I loved that word processor, because it saved my work automatically every few minutes and while it was saving, it wouldn't let me type. I had to take a break and maybe even a short turn around the room. The Brother printed by means of a daisy wheel and a single-use carbon ribbon, which meant that the product looked as if it had been written on a typewriter. I liked that. The printing cartridges were, however, very expensive and could only type about thirty pages apiece. That I didn't like, but it made it even easier to cut unnecessary lines I'd previously felt "married" to.
In the first draft, every character was given a name that was also a word, to make spell-checking easier (the Brother did not have the ability to add new words to its repertoire). I saved the "global replace" for the final draft, if at all, and my stories tended to have characters with names like Rose, Bill, and Marshall.
I think it shows tremendous foresight on my part to have named my child Olive.
Now, I have to write in the morning after Olive goes to school because that's when I get my uninterrupted hours. I am twenty-four years older, and, as I've discovered, I enjoy that initial getting-it-on-the-page process about twenty-four times less.
Today, I deprived myself of the thrill of stain removal editing, and left in that paragraph with the line I liked. I preceded it with an anecdote that may eventually get removed in its entirety.
And then I ordered a set of extra-thick, military-weight long underwear.