Everyone who writes likely has a favorite book (or a hundred). And within those favorite books are favorite passages. My most often-revisited books fall open to specific pages, the ‘good parts’–those which hit an emotional high, or which spark a resonance within me, or even those that had me so completely enraptured in their literary spell that I forgot myself. I have re-read those passages so many times that they have become a part of my writerly being, and the best I can hope as a writer is that someday, someone’s well-loved copy of my book will fall open to a certain page.
Those ‘good parts’ provide important lessons. I am currently revising a project that has been in progress for more than a decade. I have set it aside for years at a time, unable to find the secret magic that would make it what I believed it should be. But this time around, I finally feel like I’ve found the work’s soul. The magic secret was to set only one clear goal in editing–to treat every passage, every sentence, every word, as a ‘good part.’ This requires looking at the work from the ‘inside,’ not the ‘outside.’
In prior attempts to revise this work, I had edited it with various specific goals in mind, all of which had to do with the work as seen from the outside. I was editing to reduce its scale or simplify the overall structure in order to make it ‘acceptable.’ This editing approach was the product of fear and uncertainty. The first (admittedly bloated and awful) draft was roughly 300,000 words. I cut it down to 220,000 and sent it to rather shocked beta readers. I cut some more. I watched other writers’ reactions when I mentioned it was down to 200,000 words, and I became focused on length. I was looking at the work as a product, something to be fit into a package. And it wasn’t fitting. I tried to make it fit, by breaking it into two volumes. But then there was no satisfactory ending to part one. I tried streamlining the plot, cutting characters, but the story lost its heart.
Now, I am doing what I should have done from the beginning. [Read more…]