Posted by: jeannineatkins | April 11, 2011

Words We Take Out

A friend just told me about a revision she’s doing for someone who loved much of her novel, but felt a subplot distracted. My friend is a bit daunted – there’s a lot of chopping – but more excited, and consoling herself, since she liked many of the scenes that must be excised, that one day she may be able to use them in another work.

I’ve got lots of folders like that, with cut chapters, scenes, characters, and images. I’ve even saved certain sentences and hoarded words. Some of this may just be a way to make the cutting feel less sore or scratchy: it can be hard not to feel the cutting metaphor on your skin. But some of the saving is practical, too. The stacks mean I never have to face a truly blank page: hey, I have my stashes! And there was love in them as well as work, which can offer a nudge that’s almost a caress, for I’m getting a gift, even if I wrapped it myself. I’m not one to complain about where a present came from.

Some characters or scenes have met each other in new books, while some  images have been passed along through several works-in-progress without ever making it to a published page. Why do they still haunt me? Why do I still think they might have a place? As the years pass, I’m less sure that they’ll ever find a way into a book, but it doesn’t matter. I won’t polish silverware I’m not going to use, but I like hauling out old scenes, putting them in place even if just to get put back in the cupboard. They remind me of something, and it’s more than nostalgia. Maybe there’s a color that needs to get in the corner of a room. Maybe it’s a piece of furniture, or someone’s old haircut, or weather or a mood I forgot, but not entirely. Writing always involves some patchwork, and often the old makes us see something entirely new.



  1. The scrapbooks are nice. As is your attitude. I think it’s good to go into each book with the thought that you’re going to give this one under your hands all your best, all your treasures, but when it comes trimming time, to be glad to put away a few glittery scraps.

  2. Unlike Anne Marie, I often do use my “extra” material. I keep a folder in my computer book file just for this purpose. The writing seems fine but it’s in the wrong place.

  3. Ah, this word: often. I guess I’m on the often-enough side, and it may depend upon a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full mood. I’m with you, writing along, swerving into an elegant detour that must be excised. And sometimes used. And sometimes put in and chopped out again. And sometimes left to its slow decay. But I do insist on telling myself that all this can be used. Even if I’m slightly raising my eyebrows.
    And I’m glad to hear of your thriftiness with words, as it fits someone who recycles from vintage shops with so much charm.

  4. I guess we should remind you not to push Send when you suggest a volume of The Uncollected Unpublished Works of Jeannine Garsee?
    It’s true that we have to write some scenes just to get to the scenes that really need to be written and actually fit our plots and themes. But it is a wee bit too sad to simply hit delete. They’re not hurting anyone.

  5. I agree! And most of the ones I saved to other files were pretty damn good scenes, mostly cut out to knock back the word count. Maybe someday they’ll find a home. Or *gasp* I can post them. Oooh, we should ALL do this!!! What fun.

  6. Yeah, I have a stack of cuts, too. But here’s my question. What do you do with them? Do you have them in one document–“cut stuff”? Do you have some way of keeping up with what’s where and where to look if you do want one of those gorgeous cut phrases again? Maybe you can tell my computer files are beginning to feel like a very badly organized cabinet.

  7. I think “cut stuff” would be too crammed a closet for me to ever open the door, still, I don’t keep small cabinets. Every book has its “not used” file, which is pretty much a hodge podge. Of course there are also those books that are themselves “not used.” Ie unpublished. If an image or character is calling me back, I go to that overstuffed file. And maybe find one or two pretty little things in the process of looking. Sometimes for something that’s not quite what I remembered.
    This is why we don’t call this art a science!

  8. I really enjoyed this post on cut scenes, and the comments from other authors. I’ve used cut scenes before in short stories; there is a chapter from one novel that I’ve written that I recently turned into a short story, knowing that it likely wouldn’t make it through a revision of the novel. Like Anne Marie, I like to keep these treasures, whether they lead somewhere else eventually or not. Maybe there are like a sort of scrapbook. What a neat way to think about them.

  9. That’s what I do with every project. I have a file called “Attic” for each book and that’s where all the scraps wait for me. I am hit and miss with how often I reuse them but it is a comfort to know they are there waiting for me.

  10. I also have a habit of carrying a favorite idea for a scene for book to book, wanting it to land in the best possible place. Or, alternatively, I want to reuse the big impact scene. Sigh. Hard to let go of our favorites.

  11. Scrapbook, or I love Susan’s way of calling the files Attic. Maybe especially as someone who loves to rummage in semi-lit places, and absolutely believes in the treasures to be found there.

  12. Susan, I love that you call these files attics!
    And I believe there can be some sort of magic in fitting in those scenes, even if we take them out. It’s not like trying on the dress or jewelry that’s just too good to wear — the point is that we want to give away our best, and now — but maybe a ritual, like saying grace, that should be done even if no one sees.

  13. Yes, there was love in them as well as work. I keep them all, even those ancient scraps in a handwriting I no longer recognize.

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