The writing life is a whole shit-ton of guessing and experimenting and hoping, and then finding someone to tell us that we stink in some places and are pretty brilliant in others.
Knowing what prose to keep and what to toss is subjective—at least until your readers read your published book, then subjection goes all out the window and into space-ace-ace-ace. Having an editor and perhaps a trusted and very-truthful-even-if-it-hurts friend/colleague is super important—for everyone, everyone, EV-ER-EE-1 (and I’ve learned this lesson the hard way).
But you have to listen and apply. After your beautiful perfect book has been ripped asunder, go to bed and yank the covers over your po’ wittle pea-head for an hour or two or twenty and then pull up your big boy undies and your big girl panties and suck it the hell up! There likely isn’t a one of us who hasn’t been scathed and burned and shredded by an editor and/or trusted colleague/friend. If you climb down off your high-horse, you can better see the piles of poo that need cleaning up so your horsey can freely gallop. And your manuscript will be the better for it. I done climbed (been bucked) off’n my high horse a time or two, by golly! And I’ve done some burning and scathing and shredding of other writers’ manuscripts. (I say this to my personal training client but it applies to the editor-writer relationship: hate me today; love me tomorrow!)
Have you ever watched deleted movie scenes and thought, “Glad they took that out!” Imagine if those deleted scenes were still there. We may think, “That’s really out-of-left-field/silly/doesn’t make sense/over the top/ boring/self-indulgent . . . .” (Sometimes Me thinks about some long movies, “Should’a cut some of this danged ol’ movie . . . ungh.”)
But because things can never be easy (insanity! Insanity! Insaaannity!) maybe a deleted scene is great and you may think, “Hey, that’s a cool scene; why’d they take it out?” Sigh.
But folks, really, no one notices the place the deleted scene(s) once occupied—and they have a reason for taking it/them out, right? Even if only because Big Movie Head says, “This thang is too long. Cut it or I stop paying the bills.” We moviegoers are unaware of all that work and cutting and drama—which is how it should be.
Here’s what happened with one of my novels that I’m most proud of (Sweetie): I’d given the manuscript to my editor the evening of my deadline and the very next morning I contacted her in a panic, retrieved that manuscript back from her, and immediately deleted 2 chapters up front, 2 chapters at the end, and rewrote a good portion of that manuscript at.the.very.last.moment. I shudder to think of what Sweetie would have been without my last minute deleting and reworking. And, really, I knew it before I sent it, but didn’t listen and apply my own instincts, until, of course, I did. I love that book and so did (do) many readers.
Be true to who you are but perhaps, she gently says, stop trying so hard to: show people what a Writer you are; that you can write like/better than so and so; step in the way of your characters because you, the author, has something to say or a rant/vent or a lesson to teach or whatever it is that is getting in the way of your characters being who they are. When you write what isn’t Yours, or write to please someone else (your mom, your partner, your readers, your publishers—yup tha’s what I said, your publishers—been there done did that—all those voices need to be out of your way) then the result when you type “the end” may be bloated and gassy—urp. Grab that sucker by the ankles and shake the ding-dang-dong out of it. Turn it inside out and upside down and sideways and thump it on the back. Give your manuscript some Gas-X, y’all! [Read more…]