Outtakes

Sometimes I think saving stuff is just a way to soothe ourselves.

It becomes an intermediary step between the immediate decision and the final decision. Should I get rid of this dress? This dress that I’ve loved, that I wore to Suzie’s wedding and first kissed Harry in? I’ll put it in this trunk, with other old clothes and use it in a quilt someday.

Now what’s happening is, I’m faced with moving bags and boxes and trunks full of old clothes I’ve been saving. Sure, I sometimes use them in quilts, which is nice. But I never have made picnic blankets from all those old jeans. Never touched most of those beautiful fabrics I couldn’t resist buying. If civilization collapses, however, I can make blankets for all of you.

I give David a hard time (part of my job description) about his not-dirty, not-clean clothes. He has several intermediate stations for them. The chest by the bed is for clothes clean enough to be worn again, but too dirty to hang up. The bathroom floor clothes pile is for another level of dirtiness, though not quite to the point of being committed to the laundry room.

That’s part of it — the unwillingness to commit to the final choice. To be without the thing.

When I started the great Ruthless Revision, I also created an outtakes file. Which I hadn’t done in a number of years. As a young writer, I kept an ongoing outtakes file. Any time I cut even the smallest phrase, I attentively pasted it into this document that I saved. Kind of a living morgue. A museum of brilliant prose that could work somewhere, someday. But really it was just to soothe the pain of deletion. Much easier to cut, paste and save, than send it into oblivion. When you’re a young writer, it’s tempting to think that these wonderful words you weave together can somehow be lost forever. That you’ll never recover them.

This is, of course, utter nonsense.

Which is something I learned, when I discovered that I revisited my outtakes file about as often as I dig into my trunks of quilt fabrics. I admit it: often if I make a new quilt, I just go buy exactly the color and pattern I need. And often it’s easier just to compose something new than fidget with some old fragments, to finagle them to fit.

But, I created an outtakes file for the Ruthless Revision, because I was feeling that pained about it. It’s especially redundant because I’m saving the entire original draft. Enshrined, as it were. That first morning, though, it made me feel better to save the HUGE CHUNKS I was cutting out. After a while, I wanted to check for a bit of information from a section I’d cut. I discovered my outtakes document wasn’t even open. Not only that, I’d failed to paste that bit into it. I hadn’t pasted cuts in for pages and pages. It was easy enough to go look it up in the museum draft.

Apparently I didn’t need my little crutch anymore. I’d just been deleting away.

This ruthless mode can be liberating. Cathartic, even. I’m planning to sell my sewing machine and I’m moving no fabric to British Columbia.

Someone else can make the quilts when civilization collapses. I’ll be busy writing. And deleting.

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