Cutting Down Your Words: A Thoreau Tale

To many writers, one of the most daunting things in the world is finishing their first draft. “There,” he or she smiles, holding their beautiful manuscript like a tiny new born, “it’s done!” But…is it? Of course not. While that one moment of elation does feel great and triumphant, there is still so much more work to be done. The next stage is the most grueling and challenging: editing your work. It is the most dreaded because now the question of “What stays and what goes?” must linger in the writer’s mind.

Thoreau didn’t seem to have this problem.

As we all know, he had many different versions of Walden. Version A, B, and C all are unique and different in their own way. There are some huge changes he made between them, like nixing entire paragraphs or passages. Then, there are tiny alterations, like changing word order or cutting out an extra verb. Looking over all these versions almost dumbfounded me since I’m worried I might never be Thoreau.

Well, to backtrack, I know I can never be Thoreau for many reasons; he lived in a different time period, was an amazing writer, and is a whole other, different, human being. What I mean to say is that editing my work, my writing, is worse than dry swallowing any large pill, or subjecting myself to any annoying shot. The mere idea that he edited his work so many times, and then edited his writing within the different versions, perplexes me.

I know it shouldn’t. In all of my writing classes my professors smile, nod, and say that everything you write is only your first draft. A writer’s work is never truly done. Yes, I agree with that. I know how to clean up my work, and fix silly grammatical errors and punctuation mistakes. But how does one cut down on the jibber-jabber?

Throughout Versions A, B, and C I noticed sometimes by just trimming a few extra words out of a sentence made it so much more stronger. Instead of carrying on and on about the same detail, Thoreau might just use a few select key adjectives to describe it.

Other times, however, he elaborates further.

My question as a writer and a reader, is how? How does one make the distinction between what enhances the reader’s experience, and what bogs it down? Sometimes when I’m editing my work I want to cry (just kidding…a little) when thinking about cutting out so many words. “Will it still flow evenly?” I wonder. “Will the reader still be able to clearly picture what I’m trying to say?”

This, I believe, is a struggle every writer faces. Thoreau must have felt this too since he did have so many versions. I’m only speculating by saying that he wasn’t daunted by his task, but perhaps, somehow, he was. While maybe he enjoyed having all of his different versions of Walden, perchance he too did wonder how he’ll ever get it to be one, crisp piece.

I’m not sure, but maybe one day in the far off future I too will be looking at Versions A, B, and C of my very own manuscript and wonder how in the world I was able to get there. Tis only the best of wishful thinking though!





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