The true value of all those drafts – Elizabeth Marro

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By Elizabeth Marro

By that night in the fall of 2009, I’d written four or five drafts of what I hoped would be my first novel. I’d put thousands of hours into the book and written thousands of words in order to arrive at the document opening on my computer screen. Seven hundred and fifty pages.♥

I took a deep breath. I went through the document until the contents of roughly six hundred pages were highlighted in blue. Then I placed my finger over the delete button, closed my eyes, and pressed down.

When I opened them again, only one hundred fifty pages remained on the screen before me, a rough collection of scenes and a few chapters. One precious sentence on those pages saved me from complete and utter despair. It was the last line in the last scene of the book I now knew how to write.

That sentence had surfaced around draft number three and had been waiting since then for me to notice it. I know now that I wouldn’t have written it, and I wouldn’t have recognized what it offered if I hadn’t put in all those hours and written all those pages I ended up deleting.

As with so many of the breakthroughs I’d had as I learned to write, it took a second set of eyes and some tough questions to help peel the scales from my own.

I signed up to work with the late Drusilla Campbell for a workshop she led one night a week for five weeks. We were very different writers, drawn to different subjects. Drusilla, though, had a gift for spotting the problems in a story. She had a firm handle on structure. She delivered the bad news and hard questions with respect but without any attempt to soften the blows.

What is this story really about? What do the characters really want? What is actually happening in this story? They weren’t new questions but they worked differently on me now. As frustrated and lost as I was, I was no longer a beginner. I knew my characters, even though I would come to know them better. I knew the world they lived in. The knowledge I gained from writing all those early drafts and all the pages I deleted that night imbued the story that is about to be published. All those pages helped me to write better. Writing thousands of words and trying to make sentences can do that.

Here is how view this now: My “first” novel is really my second, maybe even my third if you count all the early drafts that led up to the night I cut the six hundred pages. Now I can say those pages make up the novel I stashed “in a drawer.”

And they are not really lost, not forever. Even though I deleted them from the version on my screen that day, I still have them on my hard drive and in my files. I’ve already started to mine them for other stories I might write. There is one character in particular who will find a home. I’ve learned that when it comes to writing, nothing is wasted, even if I never use a single word of it again.

Elizabeth Marro’s work has appeared in The San Diego Reader, The Gloucester Daily Times,, and elsewhere. A long-time resident of the “North Country” region of New Hampshire, she holds degrees from the University of New Hampshire and Rutgers University, and now lives in San Diego. Casualties is her debut novel.

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