There is an episode of Homestar Runner (if you’re unfamiliar, Google it – lots of laughs to be had) in which Homestar tries to answer Strong Bad’s email and ends up crashing the computer. His problem is that he can’t remember the word “deleted,” so he keeps typing in other words until the computer implodes. His first guess is “Baleeted!” and that is the very word that comes to mind whenever I delete something significant from my writing.
At the beginning of Aret, the protagonist celebrates her 21st birthday alone, getting drunk in a crappy bar. When she arrives, she orders a shot of tequila, then observes various items hanging on the wall behind the bar while she waits for her drink. In my first draft(s), the description of those items was weird, convoluted, and rambling. I rewrote the passage several times but never got it quite right.
Over three years, approximately thirty people put their hands on that brief passage. A writing professor and a class of twelve, a critique group, and more than a dozen other readers offered feedback, and with all of their help, the passage expanded, contracted, and utterly transmogrified. At long last, it said exactly what I wanted to say, exactly how I wanted to say it. I sat back and read the finished product with a smile as the following thoughts ran through my head:
It’s done. Finally. Word choice, flow, rhythm, everything in perfect order. Halle-freakin-lujah. And would you look at that? This passage is completely distracting and superfluous. Huh.
[That’s how I felt about deleting something that took three years to write, although when this photo was taken, I was demonstrating my feelings towards entering the Pacific Ocean at 8 a.m. Stand-up paddleboarding is fabulous, but early mornings and cold water? Blech. No.]
All writers eventually find themselves deleting work the moment it has achieved a state of perfection. That is a fact of writing, but its inevitability doesn’t remove the sting, and the emotional rollercoaster is dizzying. “Boo, this is awful. I’ll never fix it. It’s hopeless. Wait…hold it…that’s a little better. Ooo, now it’s much better! Still not quite right, but…oh, wow! Voila! Perfecto! Ah ha ha ha ha! I’m so awesome! And now…delete.”
Yes. Three years of revision well spent, indeed.