The Lost-Word Saloon

Where do the words go?

No, really. Where?

Granted, it’s a slightly metaphysical question. Blame Will Hill, author of the genuinely glorious Department 19 (what do you mean, you’ve not read it? What’s wrong with you? It’s got vampires in it – proper ones; scary ones – and guns. Why haven’t you read it?) who mentioned on Twitter that he’s just cut 45,000 words from a draft of the sequel.

And this got me to thinking: just where do those words go? You see, once, they were part of a story. They belonged to something… and suddenly, they don’t belong any longer. Back in ye olden days, when writers actually had to write things out (as opposed to being blessed with the golden “delete” key), words had to be crossed out. Maybe… maybe, you’d lose a complete page or two, and tear it up. But otherwise, edits remained part of that first, original text. Just ones with a line through (or, in the case of Tim Powers manuscripts, as I recall, sometimes rendered utterly illegible). The point is, they’re still there. Somehow.

But now everyone works virtually, and even what is held up as a “first draft” it isn’t usually a first draft in the truest sense of the word: already, an author will have been through it, deleting and adding and subtly shifting… and the hungry backspace key devours its victims without a second thought.

So where do they go to, these once-words? Do they sit in some kind of cosmic waiting room, hoping to be called by another writer? Do the words culled by literary authors sit at a different table to those cut from genre books? Do the edits from academic textbooks complain about the noise, and the YA offcuts have to see if they can persuade a couple of deletions from a biography to buy their drinks?

And – more importantly – where will they go next?

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