By 8:30 this morning, I had deleted over 2,000 words from the current chapter I'm working on.
If you've been reading this blog for even a few weeks, you know that one of my anxieties is that the manuscript will not be long enough to be a real book. But this morning, I decided that a section that I had spent ten days researching and three days drafting not only wasn't very good, but simply Would Not Work. So other than a two-sentence paragraph that still works well as a transition, it's gone.
Letting go – just tossing something that isn't working, and that is slowly dragging down everything else around it – is scary, but it can also be incomparably liberating. Here's a story: When I was writing my dissertation, one of the things I decided right off was that I needed to understand some background stuff. So for two or three months, I read boring books and articles on this background. Then I wrote a forty-five-page chapter. The months went by, and I wrote two more chapters. But as I wrote, I started to realize that something was wrong. Sadly, I knew what it was: large portions of chapter one, product of so much long (and frankly very dull) labor were blocking the project as a whole. I had learned something in writing it, but it didn't play nicely with everything else, and did little or nothing to move the argument forward. In fact, it acted as a red herring, distracting my hypothetical readers from where I'd decided I wanted to take them.
So, after much agonizing, and weighing the work I'd put in against the knowledge that it just wasn't going to work out, I deleted two dozen pages from chapter one of my dissertation. It hurt, but it was followed by a feeling of lightness and freedom, and a clear sense of the path forward.
So yes: 2,000-plus words gone.** Just an hour ago. But I know it's for the best.
**Okay, technically not really "gone" – I have an entire folder on my hard drive labled "orphaned sections," in the hopes that someday the work will find a home.