Cuts and Rewrites Are No Joke

Johann_Sebastian_BachI heard this joke when I was a kid:

Back in the 1800s, an American college student goes to Germany to study, and while he’s there, he visits the city of Leipzig. He hears a rumor that the remains of his hero, Johann Sebastian Bach, are at Old St. John’s Cemetery in an unmarked grave. But the person who told him this also told him how to identify it. Wow. He’d love to find it, but his schedule is busy and he’s not able to get there until his last night in the city — and by then cemetery is closed. Man, he says, I can’t stand the thought that I was at Leipzig but never took the time to see Bach’s tomb. The more he thinks about it the more it bothers him, so he finally decide he has no choice: he has to break in.

So he does. Don’t ask me the details because I don’t know, but he sneaks into the cemetery, finds the right tomb, and breaks in. To his surprise, there’s a candle burning on a desk, and at the desk sits a man hard at work erasing something.

The kid says, “Hey, who are you?” The man turns around with a scowl. “I am Johann Sebastian Bach. Now go away. Can’t you see I’m decomposing?”

Okay, so the joke’s not all that funny. But then, neither is de-composing.

I don’t know anything about writing music, but with prose, an unavoidable part offile0002057395066 writing is un-writing. Back in the day, I wrote stories on notebook paper, and my early drafts were full of scribbles and scratch-outs. Sometimes I’d X out whole paragraphs (or throw out whole pages), or circle sections and insert them elsewhere by means of arrows. Computers make the task much easier and neater. But it’s never fun to delete large swaths of your work.

Yesterday I was excited at how far I’d progressed in my WIP this week; but at the same time, I was concerned about the direction it was going.  After mulling it over all night, I realized by morning that I had to delete a large portion of what I’d written yesterday.

But that’s just part of the game. If Johann Sebastian Bach can do it, I can too. At least I don’t have to do it by candlelight.

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