I’ve been thinking a lot about editing these days: the delights, the fears, and the revelations. For every hundred words I write it seems that about seventy eventually get burned. Multiply that by ten and for every thousand words, seven hundred will get lost along the way. By that calculation to write a one hundred thousand word novel it will be the pick of three hundred thousand words. Or for a forty thousand word dissertation, a sizeable one hundred and twenty words. While the maths may be a bit skewed what’s evident is that the first draft, however rough, is a necessary precursor. The first draft informs the second which informs the third by which point some characters are only just waking up.
In the same way a floral arrangement starts with a few stems, one may jot down an inspired line of words. The first stems may be striking or beautiful and others will be worked in around them. As other stems are introduced and a bit of greenery added, the possibilities grow and very soon the look of the whole is changing. Similarly, a first draft will introduce characters and scenes whose presence is not yet maximised. They stick out, hinting, suggestive, inviting more attention. In the next draft if one dwells there a little longer, options and possibilities will begin to open up. That striking first line may even appear a little withered around the edges. Parting company is inevitable and so lamentable that another temporary resting place may have to be found for it.
Whether one plans ahead or goes with the flow, as the words weave into lines and scenes take shape, possibilities emerge and choices arise. And therein lies the alluring predicament of editing. Pruning the first growth will strengthen the next and give way for fresh buds and new stems. So be not afraid of editing that rough edged first draft. It may involve a detour down some by-road that proves interesting if not exciting enough to inspire a trot and a flurry of enthusiasm for the new landscape and its wild flowers. One may end up lost but with a few friendly proffered directions who knows where it may lead. How different the destination may be. Hence there’s no need to get it perfect first time. As James Thurber said: ‘Don’t get it right, get it written.’