Saturday, December 1, 2012

Manuscript ecosystems and leftovers

I think a manuscript is a lot like a small ecosystem, like a forest, for example. And in a forest, in order for healthy and strong things to grow, other things have to die or get chopped or fall down and get eaten by bugs and mushrooms and eventually melt into the forest floor.

I sometimes chop and burn stuff from my manuscripts, but the last bit, falling down and quietly being consumed by bugs and mushrooms, is the way my leftovers file operates. Today, actually, I put almost 3000 words of a scene into my CR file. I changed my mind on stuff and it didn’t fit anymore. But I couldn't quite bring myself to burn or chop it. 

It’s been fun to see what my fellow scribblers here do with their leftovers. It looks like a lot of us stuff them into a file. It’s also been fun to see what people name theirs. With mine, I add the letters CR to the title of the file. MindGamesCR.doc, GigisCR.doc. CR stands for Cutting Room floor. In the movie industry, before digital, film editors would take hours of film and cut out a bunch of it so that all was left was the movie. And the floor would be full of snippets of film. I don’t know why I went for a movie term for my file, but it feels really fitting to me.

The CR files are very helpful psychologically to me. It’s a painless way to “cut my darlings” as the saying goes, but keep them around. I ease the pain by telling myself that when I put them into the file,  I can use them again, or I’ll maybe put them back, though usually when they go into a CR file, they’re gone. Because if I’m just moving a scene or holding it for later, I give it its own file.

There are times when I double fool myself and use a yellow highlight on especially good scenes or lines I’ve cut, as if this will draw the attention of my later self who will be like, cool! I have to use this!

Oh, sometimes I DO pull CR stuff back in, but it’s never the way I think I will. I’ll just suddenly remember a good turn of phrase or a hot kiss or some handy description, and I word-search my CR and grab it.

When I contemplate reading any of my CR docs, I kind of cringe. I  know there are really embarrassingly stupid and clunky scenes in those. Just really obvious and dorky. Or creepily not sexy stuff that I thought was sexy in the moment, or ham-handed stuff. I think some good stuff is in them, too, but do I have the time to wade through it?

I have a tendency to want to keep all the words, keep all my hard work—I think a lot of writers do, but if I’m hesitating over it or questioning it, it has to go. That is just my rule. Which has resulted in a great volume of CR files. Hopefully I have a rich and fertile forest floor by now. Or at least some interesting bug and mushroom colonies. 


  1. I have a discards.doc file for every story. Anything longer than a few sentence goes in there. I don't care about order, I just plunk them in at the end. I have some discards files that are over 20K long.

    It is helpful to see how large of a percent I cut, and how that has changed over the years. My earlier novels went from 100% (my trunk novels) to 20%. I am now down to less than 10%. It feels like progress to me.

  2. Hey, Tia - That's interesting that you've noticed a decrease in disards. I've never thought of looking at it over time. Thanks for stopping by. Happy writing this weekend!