The Art of the Edit

Packing. Do you love it or hate it? There is the excitement of going someplace but, also, the painful (for me) choices of what to take and what to leave behind. I like to have my "stuff" with me. When I first started traveling, I used to get horribly anxious about the process. I didn't know where I was going or what I would need when I got there.  I had to leave favorite things behind because they weren’t practical, or would wrinkle, or were too bulky, or didn’t really go with anything else. As I pack for a trip to Mexico, my mind is on the revisions of my novel, At The Wheat Line. I’ve been thinking about how similar the revision process is to packing (though one takes a day and the other is taking, ahem…years).

I always pack too much at first. And often the wrong things. In the past, that meant I ended up too cold or too warm or with the wrong shoes. But I’ve learned to look at what I’ve packed and ask myself, “Do you really need that?” “Have you already got something in there that will serve the purpose?” "What critical thing is missing?" Then I take out the things that aren’t absolutely necessary (sometimes my favorite things that have no purpose on THIS trip). Then I figure out what I must have. I’ve never regretted this editing. My bags are lighter and  I’m left with exactly what I need.

I’m on the third major revision of my manuscript.  This is my first novel. In the first two drafts, I threw in things that seemed like they should be there, but I wasn't really sure why. I ended up having a lot of what I didn’t need and not nearly enough of what I did.

In this third revision, the notes and voices of my wonderful novel critique group carry me through, much like talking things through with my husband as I pack, "Do you think I need this?” (If I’m asking, the answer is usually no). I've taken out many, many, many scenes. I've moved things around. And all those changes have given me room to put in new scenes, the ones that really need to be there.

I'm still learning. I've been traveling for twenty-five years, I've been writing for much less than that. I was heartened and a bit worried when I heard Tracy Kidder speak last Thursday at the Portland Arts & Lectures Series. He said that most of his books go through ten drafts.

Check out Bella Vita, a blog written by a young woman who comes from my home town of Condon. She’s taking a 3 ½ month trip to Europe. With just a backpack. I was impressed with the restraint in her packing. Particularly in the area of cosmetics.

Jackie Shannon Hollis