As I highlighted the paragraph of my beloved story, I imagined placing my hand on the chopping block, fingers splayed. I raised the cleaver. Let it begin. I brought the cleaver down swiftly on my pinkie finger. Chop. Delete.
My carefully crafted paragraph erased, I cleaned up the extra line and read through the piece again. Holding up my hand, I saw blood spurting with every heartbeat. Now the piece is imbalanced, as the following paragraph built upon the one I deleted. It’s got to go as well. Chop. Delete. Blood spurted from both hands.
I dearly loved this story. I wrote it before the towers fell; before 9/11. It was a better time. The economy was surging. I could afford to be a sycophantic, outrageous American then. America had never been attacked on home soil and was globally respected as a country. In most places, we were the good guys. Flash to now. Flash to soldiers in Iraq, committing suicide to make the insanity cease for them. Flash to years of governmental mismanagement and egregiously flawed decisions. We’re not seen as the good guys anymore. We’re seen as part of the problem. Chop. Delete.
I proceeded with removing paragraphs and lines, altering the text to fit as I went. Whole limbs, amputated at the knee or elbow by a single keystroke. Chop. Delete. Chop. Delete.
When I was done, I checked the word count. 2200 words had been reduced to barely 900. I inhaled deeply and it sounded like a sob. I began reading through the piece again, but it was hard to see. My eyes were wet with tears.That’s it. I need a drink.
After I had three drinks and I filled my glass a fourth time, I returned to read through the piece I had so unceremoniously butchered. I expected to see disfigurement; a torso with a head but no limbs, sitting benevolently in a wheelchair. Instead, I saw a lean, polished piece of writing. It was smaller to be sure, but it was stronger and more succinct. It was better, and much to my surprise, it was… whole.
I recalled the form letters and emails I had received from editors, rejecting this piece. We have carefully read your submission and do not think it is right for our publication…Let’s see how you like me now.