by Debbie Vance
The following is an excerpt from Don DeLillo’s 1993 Paris Review Art of Fiction Interview. You can read the full thing here. I wanted to share it with you all because I think it touches on something we writers all need to hear: The necessity–and power–of cutting those sentences, paragraphs, details, characters that we love. The whole “kill your darlings” bit, right? We’ve all heard it, but it still feels awful to prune away hours of good work, good work that you may very well love (even if no one else does). But I think DeLillo shares a helpful perspective in that “the instinct to discard is finally a kind of faith.” That we can take a kind of satisfaction in cutting what isn’t working, with the faith that we will then be free to discover what does. The best lesson I ever learned in writing was how to rewrite (and rewrite and rewrite), and I think this quote is a good example of seeing your work as a fluid thing that will change and grow and develop, if only you allow it to do so. Cut what needs to be cut, trusting that you will write again, better.
For some preface, DeLillo has already explained that he works on a manual typewriter and keeps all of the pages of his early drafts in case he wants to go back and find some lost bit, or merely to feel the presence of the whole, raw, original work.
“That’s right. I want those pages nearby because there’s always a chance I’ll have to refer to something that’s scrawled at the bottom of a sheet of paper somewhere. Discarded pages mark the physical dimensions of a writer’s labor—you know, how many shots it took to get a certain paragraph right. Or the awesome accumulation, the gross tonnage, of first draft pages. The first draft of Libra sits in ten manuscript boxes. I like knowing it’s in the house. I feel connected to it. It’s the complete book, the full experience containable on paper. I find I’m more ready to discard pages than I used to be. I used to look for things to keep. I used to find ways to save a paragraph or a sentence, maybe by relocating it. Now I look for ways to discard things. If I discard a sentence I like, it’s almost as satisfying as keeping a sentence I like. I don’t think I’ve become ruthless or perverse—just a bit more willing to believe that nature will restore itself. The instinct to discard is finally a kind of faith. It tells me there’s a better way to do this page even though the evidence is not accessible at the present time.”
Tags: DeLillo, Editing, Writing Tips