Last Monday or Tuesday, maybe Wednesday — sheesh — I began another edit of my novel. I have a couple of manuscripts out to readers, but the story called to me. This might go against all sound advice, but I completed a development edit on August 31, and the story was more or less fresh in my head. I debated giving it a long timeout, say three months, but I knew there were sections that needed surgery. At the end of my story, looking back, I knew of several scenes that needed either modification or removal. Reparative surgery or amputation. I debated waiting for feedback to confirm my suspicions.
I decided to re-read my first chapter.
I should backtrack a bit. I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’, Francine Prose’s ‘How to Read Like A Writer’, and Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451′. I had literary words in my head. I had Gaiman’s efficiency, Prose’s extreme literary examples, and Bradbury’s almost hyperbolic style hitting me all at once. I had focus on words, sentences, and paragraphs. I was focused on the writing, not the story. I felt I was in a zone.
I have also been working on a short story extracted from my novel. One of my readers told me a short scene I shared read like a short story. But it was only 500 words. Hmmm. I found another dangling scene and glued them together. It was an improvement, but it didn’t quite work. (see my previous post) The story also primed my thinking on my novel, and reaffirmed my need to get back at it.
I created a new file and began. I assumed a position of a content and line editor. I asked two questions: does it read well and does it belong? Maybe these do not belong in the same edit, but that is what I asked. The very first answer of the very first sentence was no, so I re-wrote my opening lines. I smiled. I felt good. I kept going.
Scene number three was my first challenge. I felt many times it needed trimming but could never find it, could never slash any of it. As I read it, it became very clear that much of it was crap. It was crap content and it was crap writing. I cut, cut, and cut. I then jumped ahead to a scene I knew needed a beat-down. I had just pounded one scene, so let’s roll. Let’s rumble why we’re in the mood. I chopped, chopped, chopped.
I am now 27k words in and have removed almost three thousand words. Yes!
But I added my short story in. It is a chapter in my novel. And this brings two dilemmas:
– do I remove bits of reference material needed for the story but not for the scene; because they were introduced in the novel?
– what will this do to my publishing chances? How does the copyright thingy work? Is it good or bad to publish a chapter as a short story?
I am discouraged I write so poorly, but aren’t we all? Anne Lamott in ‘Bird By Bird’ claims all our first drafts are shitty and not to worry about it. Good writing takes much effort, may rounds of editing, many attempts at trying new words and phrases, of experimenting, of working at it. Determination results in more creativity any noetic miasma might. So I plod forward and don’t look back.
Last night, after a weekend away, I edited a key scene. I asked myself “did I really write this?” It was good. Seriously, it was very good. It gave me chills. I woke this morning at 4:30 and jumped back in the pool. I re-edited the same scene and felt just as good. I edited the next scene, and … I removed it. It was part of my short story. I welded the remnants to the next scene, and read through it twice. I made some sentence changes. I moved me almost to tears. I smiled. “Fuck I’m good,” I thought, and slapped myself.
No I am not. Not yet. Never will be good. Quality writing occurs with a quality process. Focus on the process John. Do it the write way!
If you are beta-reading my last draft, sorry about this, but I will not likely use much of your feedback. Well, maybe I will, or maybe I will have already.