Vacuum Bags: Thoughts on Beating the Inner Editor

lost toy bitsVroom! Pt! Ptta! Clack!  No, my vacuum cleaner’s not broken. It’s just that when my kids clean up their toys, they inevitably miss a few little pieces, camouflaged in the dense pattern of the oriental carpet. They hate losing pieces, so in addition to increased vigilance at clean-up time, we’ve established a fail-proof method of retrieving lost toy bits.

Whenever the vacuum bag is full, we take it outside, place it in on a disposable plain surface,  and carefully cut open the bag. Then, using tweezers and sticks, we gently and methodically go through the contents. As each lost item is found, my kids rejoice. It’s almost like Christmas morning emerging from a vacuum bag! Over the years, this strategy has saved countless doll accessories, beads, and Lego pieces from being thrown away.

If you think about it, the “delete” button on your computer is a lot like a vacuum cleaner. When I first began writing, I pressed “delete” far too often to vacuum up words or phrases I didn’t like. At the end of the day, I’d find myself staring at one or two flat, stiff paragraphs or verses and all the variations I’d played with and then hastily “vacuumed up” were gone forever!  I quickly learned it was too early in the process to be tossing phrases out.

Here are four strategies I use now to keep my inner editor from throwing away words too soon.

Ditch the eraser. When writing longhand I never, ever cross out or erase anything.   Instead, I put my extra thoughts in parentheses or write two versions – one right after the other – separated by dashes.

Keep a word repository. When typing, I don’t permanently delete anything. Instead I “cut” the phrase or sentence that I think isn’t working and “paste” it in a repository at the end of the document. That way ALL my thoughts are captured and preserved, so when it comes to revising I have lots to work with.

Save and date drafts. Throughout the writing process, I keep a separate file for each piece, saving and dating “in-progress” copies of each round of revision. This helps me see the progress and journey my piece has made so far, which in turn helps me shape and polish the final version.

Be prepared. Wherever I go, I try to keep pen and paper handy so I don’t lose phrases or potential story twists that pop in my head.  Safe on paper, I can transfer them to the appropriate project file to be excavated as the project progresses.

How about you?  How do you keep track of deletions/ additions as you write, revise, and polish your pieces?

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15 thoughts on “Vacuum Bags: Thoughts on Beating the Inner Editor

  1. Excellent tips. I used to be The Great Deleter. So much so that there was always just one version of each piece I was working on. I have only recently started saving each draft as it stands each day. I actually feel like I can breathe better using this strategy.

  2. I save all the various drafts of my early reader stories (although even those have been vacuumed a bit, too), but when it comes to poetry, I’m a deleter. I was just thinking about this very thing the other day when I was working on a poem and deleted some early phrases. Usually I keep unused or iffy phrases under the poem until I’m sure I won’t need them, but I do delete them after the poem is “finished.” The other day I realized I should probably keep the drafts, but it just feels like clutter to me. But it is fun to see where it started and where it ended…hm….I may have to come up with a “clean” system….

  3. Great analogy. I started doing the repository when I was writing my dissertation. But I think I learned that from when I was in the classroom reminding kids not to erase or over cross out.

  4. Some of those Lego pieces look very familiar…. Great analogy, once again! When I change a ms, I save it as a new draft. So some stories have 8 drafts! And this post just reminded me to jot down another post PiBoIdMo idea that my son just said a few moments ago.

  5. I use the repository method too! I have some 300-word manuscripts at the top of documents that are many thousands of words long. I always paste the newest at the top. Also, sometimes I highlight phrases in a different color if I think they might have potential down the road. Usually in purple.

  6. I do save drafts, and words. If it is a short poem, I have the earlier drafts at the end of the document. I keep the “latest” one at the top so it’s the first thing I see. I also save words and phrases I didn’t use at the bottom of the document.

    With stories, I have a new file for each revision cycle, labeled by date. I don’t often look back, but it’s nice to know I can if I need to!

  7. You make me think my manic-deleter self should reconsider, or at least slow down. I must say my way of working has always been not to look back.
    Oh, and I’ve never looked inside my vacuum-cleaner bag also. Maybe I should.
    Great post, as always.

  8. My vacuum bag is almost entirely full of dog hair 🙂 And I do the exact same thing with the repository at the end of my document – it’s a great way to make the main part of the doc look smooth without getting rid of any potentially good earlier thoughts 🙂

  9. I do the same thing, Laura, cutting and pasting the bits I remove at the end of the document. Often, it’s not that they should really be done away with. It’s just that they need to be relocated.

  10. Ha ha, I love that your family digs through the vacuum bag and how you compared it to deleting words too soon in your manuscript. I don’t go through my vacuum bags but I do just like you and save each revision by dating it so that I don’t lose words I might need later on.

    • Genevieve, thanks first of all for noticing that my poem is in Highlights and second of all, for taking time to pop over with your kind comment! I haven’t even seen it yet. I keep running to greet the mailman, but all he’s delivering so far are circulars!

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