I just finished the first draft of my thesis manuscript (can I get a woot?), and now I'm staring down the barrel of the revision process. A friend new to writing asked me about the process of crafting a novel, and when I got to the revision portion, I advised her to be okay with deleting anything. In trying to tighten prose, elevate tension, deepen characters, and strengthen plot, everything is up to the wonder that is Ctrl-x, said I to my friend.
"Oh," said she. "So it's like Buddhist non-attachment."
I'm no expert on Buddhism, and what I do know is likely a very feel-good, Westernized, New Age version of it. However, non-attachment is an idea that we can find in many different religions or philosophies, and it's particularly useful to us as writers. Catherine Coulter once gave a talk to my local RWA group, and she also recommended cutting mercilessly. Our words aren't all "pearls," as she called them. Be ready to cut our most precious pearls from the manuscript because, as beautiful as they may seem, they might be completely useless within the context of our stories.
When I told my friend to be prepared to Ctrl-x anything she's written, I referred to the copy-delete function within Microsoft Word. Ctrl-x will copy highlighted text to the clipboard and delete it from the document. The point is not to delete it altogether. Instead, Ctrl-x (delete) it from the manuscript and then Ctrl-v (paste) it into a dump file where you keep your excised pearls.
Your dump file can make the art of non-attachment much easier to master because you're detaching from those pearls on a temporary basis. If you delete a pearl from the manuscript and then realize after more revision that it really was necessary to your story, you can rescue it from your dump file and put it back where it belongs.
Meanwhile, the pearl that turned out not to be so dear after all will have a happy home in your dump file. You might realize later that the dump file is full of dreck, and you can delete it then. Or you might find a pearl that really belongs to another story. And then you might realize that the rescued pearl doesn't belong in that new story, either, so you Ctrl-x it once again.
The point is to give up our attachment to those words in our manuscripts. Detach from them and realize that their presence is not absolutely necessary. However, the ability to give up a word, a clever phrase, a meticulously crafted paragraph, or even an entire chapter is key to the revision process. Nothing is sacred, and attachment to words we wrote weeks or even months ago can hold back a story's potential.
As I ramp myself up for the start of revisions, I'm getting Zen with my bad self. Looking for ways to strengthen, sculpt, and trim my writing. Detaching my ego from pretty words. Delighting myself as the story underneath the dreck rises up and becomes an intricate setting for all my pearls.