“There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don’t see them.”
Guess what, y’all? I write. A lot. Too much. Perhaps way too much.
I know, I know, that must come as an overwhelming shock. After all, I’ve done such a good job of hiding my adoration for the craft on here. But seriously, I don’t think I realized just how never-ending that passion is until last week. It normally takes me two and a half months to write a first draft, but with this book, it took four and a half. That’s partly because of everything that’s happened this year, but mostly because I just COULD NOT STOP telling this story. If thousand-page books were the norm, I easily could have fulfilled that this time around. Because it’s written in diary-style, with no entry longer than six pages, it was easy to fool myself into thinking that they wouldn’t add up as quickly. When you’re used to chapters that are ten pages in Word – or more – this seemed like nothing in comparison. “What’s an extra entry or two?” I’d think. “It’s only a couple pages, and it’s necessary for the story.”
The thing about those extra entries, though, is that they do add up. Part of me realized it as I was writing, but once I dove into edits last week … whoa, boy, did a light bulb go off. Actually, it was more like a flashing neon sign: YOU WRITE TOO MUCH. THAT MAKES MORE WORK FOR YOURSELF DURING THE REVISION PROCESS. WHY DID YOU THINK THIS WAS SMART?
Maybe it wasn’t the smartest. Maybe, when it comes down to it, entire entries will have to be scrapped. Maybe (read: definitely) these edits are going to take double the amount of time as with my other books. A few years ago, that would have unnerved me. With my first novel, the DELETE key was my enemy. Watching the cursor sail along the screen, taunting me as it erased my heartfelt words, was like a slap in the face. How could I delete phrases? Sentences? Gasp – paragraphs? It was really tough at first. But I slowly came to see that tightening the story only improved it. The next time around? I wasn’t quite so afraid to scrap sections that weren’t necessary. Just because a scene can be in a book doesn’t mean it should be. They need to have a purpose. They need to advance the plot, the journey, the characters’ growth. And yes, it’s different with this third book because I wrote it in a new (for me) style, but in a way, I think that’s helping me see it in a more objective light. I no longer fret about deleting paragraphs. I no longer hesitate with my finger poised on the BACKSPACE key. I no longer spend ten minutes deliberating whether or not to keep a single sentence. I’m much better able to zero in on what’s essential and what’s not, and I have no problem scrapping words that don’t need to be there.
I am two-thirds of the way through my first round of edits – it’s taking much longer this time because I’m being much more strict – and have already trimmed the manuscript by thirty-four pages. That’s something like 12,000 words. TWELVE THOUSAND. I think I’d have cried over that a couple years ago. But now I know the book is better for it, Sofie’s journey is tighter for it, and as a writer, I’ve grown from it. This manuscript was nowhere near the eight hundred pages Elie mentions in the quote above, and when finished it’ll be longer than two hundred, but the idea is the same. Part of being a writer is knowing when to cut the cord and break away from things you’ve written. Sure, it’s nice to clutch them close, but embracing a story doesn’t mean digging your heels in and refusing to change it. There is always room for improvement. There is always space to grow. And there are always things to delete. It’s not throwing out words. It’s reworking them, weaving them between the lines so that they’re still there. It’s telling the best story you can and doing right by your characters in the process. And you know what? It’s fun. It’s invigorating. It’s exciting.
This manuscript will go through several rounds of revisions before it’s finished. I’ll have to part with a lot more, and that’s okay. I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes the characters. Writing will always be my favorite part of the process – and I will forever be grateful to this particular cast of characters for being a true salvation for me these past few months – but I’ve come to see that editing’s not all bad. It’s actually kind of freeing. Sometimes we have to toss aside the puzzle pieces that are cluttering the framework so that all the others can fit into place.
But that scene I wrote with the character who channeled Mr. Whistler? That stays. Hee.