Vroom! 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?
Note: Over the summer, I will be sharing some of my favorite analogies from years past as I stockpile new ones for the fall and beyond. This oldie but goodie was first published in December 2012. I was reminded of it recently because as I was vacuuming, I heard the tell-tale clatter of something other than dust being sucked up by the vacuum. Upon retrieval, I discovered it was – money! (Just a quarter, but still.)