Cleaning out a storage unit parallels editing a novel.
Storage units can be messy, piled with too many unlabeled boxes or organized with nice pathways and everything catalogued.
Mine falls somewhere between the two.
I didn’t want to touch my unit, except I promised my mother, who needs to store a few things. I made the promise in late January and somehow didn’t find time to start until last weekend.
Call it avoidance.
The same thing is happening with the third revision of my novel, “The Fire Painter,” which is about a 35-year-old artist working in retail who loses everything she owns in an apartment fire. She tries to replace some of her belongings only to learn that things aren’t what matter.
I learned the same lesson as I sorted through belongings I held onto for sentimental reasons or possible use later.
In one area of my belongings, that of books, I got rid of more than half of the boxes.
As a journalist at a metro newspaper, I received dozens of freebie books and kept them, but I could never read all six boxes worth considering everything else I want to read. I looked at their covers and thought, “That book’s nice, but why do I need to keep it into eternity?”
I reduced to my book core, keeping the classics, a few reference materials that are useful to my writing life and personal interests, and the books I know I’ll read.
Not just books, I found I had extra clothes, kitchen and bathroom items, and household decorations. I didn’t need any of it.
Likewise, I don’t need the extra words and scenes that add fluff to my novel. The words I wrote, even if I think they sounded pretty, didn’t matter if they weren’t part of the story’s core.
I got rid of half of the things in my unit but only about 4 to 5 percent of my novel. It took me four hours to sort through the boxes, but 50 or so to cut out 4,000 words.
Editing books takes longer than editing life, I suppose.For one, my editing process isn’t organized. I read the novel over and over, cutting and adding until I feel like the language is clean and the storyline has a good arc with compelling dialogue, character development and interesting setting. I read it until I’m sick of it.
Just like I’m sick of my things, I edited out the fluff in my life down to the essentials.
However, I wonder why it takes me so much longer to get sick of my own work. Is it because it’s more directly connected to the inner-me than stuff ever could be? Is it because words have more lasting power than material, the spoken, airy stuff versus the hard surfaces that confine meanings into the objects they are?