Do you know how compassionate I am?
I feel sorry for words.
“You’re a saint, Earlo Pomerantz. A little Jewish frickin’ saint!”
I do! I feel sorry for words. Individual words, groupings of words… my heart recently went out to an entire paragraph!
I do not have that paragraph anymore; it had to go. Consigned first to the wastepaper basket in my office, then emptied into the recycling bin outside, which, on Fridays, gets dumped into the back of a trash truck, and then… I don’t even want to think about it.
And that’s just the paper the words are written on, the words’ corporeal body, as it were. Where go the words’ essence, their soulular spirit, so to speak – I have absolutely no idea. (Not dissimilar to my understanding of where my soulular spirit will ultimately reside.)
Writers have a phrase for necessary deletions. We call it, “Killing our babies.” Leave it to writers to turn taking out words into a life-and-death proposition.
The thing is, it feels like you’re killing your babies. As I mentioned, a paragraph I had painstakingly constructed ignominiously bit the dust. (Formerly: “… failed the determining test of ‘utilitarianism’ and out it went.”)
An entire paragraph, cut from the team, this one at the last minute. After it has called its family, announcing (previously “proclaiming” and before that “reporting”) jubilantly that it had definitely made the squad. And now it was nowhere. Alone. Abandoned. And confused.
I once thought I needed that paragraph. I was confessing in it that although I had previously defended reading Books on CD as being no different from reading actual books, I was now – courageously, I like to think – reversing my position.
In the paragraph immediately preceding “The Lost Paragraph” I explained how wearing headphones kept me from thinking, proclaiming the impossibility of listening and thinking at the same time. Upon further consideration, however, I realized that, though that statement was technically correct, it did not mean that listening on CD prevented me from entirely thinking altogether. (Do I really need “entirely”? I can almost feel the word quivering in its boots.)
I then proceeded – in “The Lost Paragraph” – to tie up what, to me, was a significant loose end, a clarification, if you will, disavowing my previous (formerly “earlier”) claim that there was no difference between reading a book and listening to one on CD.
Because there is a difference.
And it’s this.
(Note: I removed an entire paragraph that used to be right here. It’s sitting in limbo now, wondering what it did wrong.)
When you’re reading a book and a thought comes to you, you simply stop reading the book, you engage the thought, and when you are finished with that thought, you go back to reading the book.
On the other hand, when you’re listening to a book on CD and a thought comes to you, you similarly engage that thought. The salient difference is that, unlike with the book, where after you finish thinking, you pick up the narrative where you left off, with a Book on CD, the narrative has inexorably moved on.
Meaning you inevitably missed something while you were thinking.
I went on to cleverly analogize listening to a book on CD with walking on a treadmill (which I was doing at the same time.) In both examples, you may stop, but the apparatus keeps moving. I even included the fact that fitness professionals had informed me that since there was a physiological difference between walking on a constantly moving treadmill versus walking on a sidewalk that just stays there while you walk on it, I should integrate both types of walking into my weekly exercise routine.
None of that, in truth, had anything to do with the issue at hand, which was that as a result of those pesky thinking interruptions while I was listening to the book on CD, I had gleaned little new information about the Battle of Waterloo.
So I cut it the entire paragraph.
Extraneosity, however, is only one reason words and paragraphs do not make it to the “Finish Line.” (Formerly: “… do not stay in all the way to the end.” Which is an example of another reason right there. I found a more satisfying way of expressing myself.)
Other reasons I decide to cut stuff? I have overwritten. Too many clarifying descriptives, particularly unnecessarily – bye-bye, “unnecessarily”… particularly adverbs. Or I have made the same point more than once and I am repeating myself. (Do I really need “… and I am repeating myself”?)
Sometimes, during a rewrite, a more accurate word or more evocative turn of phrase occurs to me. Sometimes, I find a word that’s more contextually rhythmic. (“Contextually rhythmic” being more contextually rhythmic than the deleted “suitably rhythmic”, which is now without a home.)
Sometimes, I find a funnier way of saying something that I originally expressed more directly. (I wish I had a funnier version of that last sentence, but I don’t. So I went to the reliable fallback alternative – candor.)
For these and other reasons, words, phrases, and paragraphs, once deemed integral, are excluded from the “Final Product.” Forever lost, like a doomed astronaut untethered from the Mother Ship, jettisoned helplessly into oblivion. For that discarded verbiage, it was “Close, but no cigar”, the “Deleted” now the “Fifth Beatle” of blogatorial revelation. (I have further analogies – involving the “Flying Dutchman” – but I know I will take them out later, so why not short-circuit the heartbreak? Formerly: “… alleviate the disappointment.”)
In TV writing, there was always the “Joke File” – viable jokes, cut from the “Shooting Script” – for time, or because they no longer fit the rewrite – accumulated in a file, in hopes of inserting them into some future script down the line.
We never did. The jokes never came back. Nor does the stuff I take out.
On the other hand…
I did just resuscitate that paragraph comparing reading books to listening to books on CD. So it does happen. Such “success stories” spread quickly, sending messages of hope to the “Deleted Community.”
“You may be out now. But there is always a chance.”
Hope is punishing that way.
Because more often that not…
(I had “… considerably more often than not.” But I deleted “considerably.” If you happen to run into it, give it my best.)