On Editing and Letting Go

April 2, 2015 1 Comment

Editing is a fascinating process. My novel-in-progress has evolved from what I originally conceived. As that inevitable evolution occurs, passages that might be well-written no longer work and have to be edited out (or abandoned, which is how I sometimes feel to let go of a passage I like)

My narrator, Thea, is an analyst who has gone on a lengthy retreat to a healing center in the Adirondacks. Andreas, the director of this center, was once a teacher of hers when she studied to be an analyst. Thinking how similar emotional wounds may lead to very different outcomes, she says:

It called to mind the seminar on archetypes that he had taught. Achilles, dangled by his goddess mother in the fire of immortality, would always be vulnerable in the heel untouched by the flames. The soldier Philoctetes endured a snake bite on his foot that gave a stench so horrible the Greek armies abandoned him on the island of Lemnos as they journeyed to besiege the high walls of Troy. But, although both warriors were wounded in a foot, their stories couldn’t have been more different. Achilles died from the bowshot of Paris. Philoctetes, on the other hand, was rescued by his comrades, cured, and showed his valor in the climactic fall of Troy.

Why does this have to be cut? To me the passage feels expository, obscure, and abstract. Beyond this, the course of the novel changed after this passage was written. It no longer served well to explain Andreas, his history and his concerns.

One challenge of writing is to abandon not only passages, but the sentiment that makes me want to stay attached to what I’ve written. Instead, I value the imaginative provocations that rigorously shape and reshape fiction.

Ulysses and Neoptolemus Taking Hercules’ Arrows from Philoctetes by François-Xavier Fabre

  1. Jean Naggar
    April 9, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    I so agree, Tad, as I wrestle my way forward into my novel and find that new directions emerge and new connections are made between characters in a larger more metaphoric sense. It is such hard work to move with the characters as they swerve from the path I planned for them and create enticing new opportunities. Letting go of a lovingly crafted episode that no longer advances the direction the story is taking is truly painful, but I will wait until I have completed a full draft before making the decision, even though I sort of know now that the painful excision will have to be made.
    I am having so much fun with the process and the fulfillment of my life’s dream to write a novel. Who knows if it will ever see the light of day, but meanwhile, I forge ahead, loving the work, loving the opportunity to try.


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