As the date of my move into a new place approaches,I can’t help but see the parallels between this move and and the editing of a manuscript.
Years ago, in California, I lived in a great one-bedroom apartment near the beach. It was a great location–walking distance to restaurants and cool shopping. I loved it. Then, when I started working in aerospace, I bought my first house–a tiny, 800-square-foot, 2-bedroom bungalow. It wasn’t near the beach or any restaurants, but hey, it was a house! Over the years, as I moved up in my career, I ‘bought up’, gradually moving into bigger and better places. There was the three-bedroom ranch with a big yard, the darling storybook cottage in the woods, and eventually, the three-bedroom craftsman cottage in the foothills above Boise (which I designed myself). Of course, in the process of moving up, I acquired a lot of ‘stuff’ to fill up space. Sometimes, it was good and useful stuff (like a bed for the guest room), but sometimes, it was just stuff. Easier to hide in a closet than to get rid of.
And then I discovered writing, and found my passion. In the beginning, I didn’t have much in the ol’ craft toolbox–some grammar, a good bit of creativity, and a lot of self-discipline. That was about it. Then I learned about characterization, setting, pacing, plot, and added all those tools. As my craft grew, so did my toolbox. But as I got better, I made every effort to weed out all the bad stuff that didn’t serve me–stuff like unearned exposition, cliches, and dull dialog.
When I used up my savings, I sold the dream bungalow and used the money to support myself until I started making a living from my writing. I cleaned out my closets, but I brought a lot of baggage with me. Three years and a dwindling bank account later, I realized I needed to move again.
My new digs are in a beautiful neighborhood, less than a block from the lake and within walking distance of restaurants, shopping, nature trails and parks for the dog, and a fabulous library. It’s also less than half the size of where I’m living now.
Downsizing from a 3-bedroom house to a 1-bedroom apartment is a series of ruthless choices, which mean letting go of everything that no longer serves me. The easy stuff went to charity, recycling, or in some cases, to whoever was willing to take it. A garage sale is planned, but I’m still worried that on moving day, I’ll be moving things I don’t need but can’t seem to let go of yet (what if I need it later?).
It almost feels a like I’m ‘killing my darlings’.
And then it hit me. All this extra ‘stuff’ I’ve acquired over the last 20+ years is like the first draft of a novel: it’s full of character, setting, and plot, but it’s bloated with stuff from my past (exposition), stupid stuff (dull dialog), and a whole bunch of stuff I’ve just hung on to without really thinking about why (cliches). And now, this move, like a major edit, has forced me to get rid of (edit out) everything that doesn’t serve my life story.
Now, when I move to my new digs, I’m bringing only those things I love & need most. I like to think I’ll be living a leaner, freer, more authentic version of my own life.
It’s a liberating feeling–one which has given me a new insight on editing my novels as well. Cutting words & scenes which don’t serve the story can likewise feel brutal (what if If I need them later?), but doing so will usually improve the pacing and enable the real story to shine.
Maybe I’ll have two garage sales.