Maybe it’s just me, but I have to write a lot in order to figure out what I have to say. Take, for instance, the photograph above. I wrote all those pages on the left before I truly understood what the real story of my memoir was (for a more thorough explanation of story, read Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story). The stack on the right was what remained that was “usable,” though with many minor revisions.
With those stacks on my mind, I’m drawn to this quote from Elie Wiesel, author of Night: “Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain.”
Wiesel’s first version of his holocaust memoir, published in 1956 in Yiddish under the title And the World Was Silent, was more than 800 pages long (and few read it). A few years later he redacted and revised the story, publishing it in French (and soon thereafter translating it to English) as the story Night that we now recognize. Unlike its predecessor, Night is a tight 120 pages.
I like to think that the shadows of some pages in my stack on the left still fall on the stack to the right. It’s not that those pages are or were unnecessary. Quite the contrary, I had to write them in order to see my story. Those pages are still in my manuscript, even if the exact words on them cannot be found.