Last week, a four-yard dumpster showed up in our driveway to help inspire the decluttering of two decades. Old boards from a raised garden bed, a rotten centerboard from a 1964 Dyer Dhow; each tossed item brings back memories.
The hardest stuff to part with is the “potentially useful.” For years I’ve been collecting tiles and cracked plates with various stunning blues. Together, broken into bits, they would look simply gorgeous cemented onto our boring concrete foundation. If only I knew something about freeze-proofing ceramics…
The analogy to writing and revision is unmistakable. I’ve spent an embarrassing number of years accumulating all the words that make up this next novel; now I’m tossing out what is needed to tell the “real” story, trying not to hang on to the many pretty but useless bits. The characters have all become friends, so to me every word they utter seems significant. But all that should be kept is what readers (who make a much, much smaller investment of both emotion and time) actually need to find on each page.
The dumpster in the driveway is slowly filling up. Our closets and garden sheds are gaining acreage again. Before that rusty container leaves, I might end up digging into it for that one thing I can’t actually bear to part with. It might even be those tiles and broken plates, but only if I realize that their potential loss is taking up more emotional room than their actual presence did.
Meanwhile, inside at my desk, I am tossing words into a virtual trash can, trying to give the “real” story of this book the space and air it needs to flourish. I’m also maintaining an “old files” folder, just in case I have to go dumpster-diving. Once the story is clear, there might just be a few shards of beauty that turn out to be useful after all.