IT’S PART OF THE WRITING GAME that every word, every keystroke, feels important and deathless, at least for a while.

I don’t spend my days in a struggle to the death over every word, but there’s no doubt that’s how it feels for me sometimes. Writing can be less like Robert Browning’s “first, fine careless rapture” and more like carving words into stone with a rubber mallet. Thomas Mann said it well: “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than for other people.”

After struggling in the first place to wrestle them onto the page, it’s another struggle to cut these precious words and phrases, even when I know they have to go to make room for better things.

I had a good writing week–a couple of very productive writing days and a couple of so-so ones.  Most important, I made a significant change I’d been postponing for some time in my murder mystery.

I resisted doing the deed in part because it required some confusing restructuring and editing. I hate doing that stuff because the opportunities to mess things up are rife; I even color code at-risk passages so I know which ones still fit together before doing the dreaded cut-and-paste. At times I resort to actual cutting and pasting–I print out the pages and have at them with scissors and a glue stick.

This week, the result of all this meant cutting (and not re-pasting) about 2,000 words from my tale.

I  like to know a lot about my characters; I write biographies for them and fit the details into the narrative. This is helpful to me, but the reader doesn’t need it all. Some of the eliminated words were this kind of back-story, not really critical to the action of the book.  But most of it was good material that just didn’t work.

When Word tells you to the byte how many words you’ve written so far and you know how many words you need your book to be (65,000, give or take) it’s really tough to dump the equivalent of a full day’s work with one keystroke and feel good about it.

But when I was done, and I’d written new words, I did feel good about it. The new stuff I wrote was better than the words I’d cut. Much better. The resulting passages got into the action more quickly without leaving the reader confused. They’re good.

As usual, I was sorry I had waited so long, and agonized so hard, over changes that turned out to be for the best.

Alas, this is a lesson I’ve learned many times and so I have every confidence it won’t stick with me. The next time I am poised with scissors and glue stick (either literally or virtually)  the angst will be the same.

It’s not all time wasted.  At some level the “bad” passages are due a kind of respect. They have the right to stay if they can persuade me they are value added to my book.  And persuasion takes time.


7 thoughts on “Every Delicious Byte

  1. Well done and is interesting insight into the process. Those of us (ok, me) who enjoy the final result don’t realize the “birthing and death” involved.

  2. It’s always a wrench, destroying (in some ways) that which you have worked so hard to create. I get around it by creating a recycling area at the end of the Word document so that the paragraphs don’t get consigned to oblivion, but can rest easy in their own little ‘green room.’ Sentimenality? Perhaps, but how many authors have gone on to release books filled with paragraphs that fans have demanded to see? Stephen Donaldson, for one.

    1. Hi Andrew and welcome. This is a really good idea you have here–I’m going to start doing that right away. I have been keeping them, but in a separate document where they are harder to get at if I change my mind and want to reincorporate bits of them. I like this much better. Cheers.

  3. I leave it to others to comment on the deep and substantive observations you have made – let me point out that not only did you use “eschew” in a sentence, you used it in the same blog with “michigas”. Very impressive. Write on!

  4. Hey there, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your blog in Ie, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, fantastic blog!

    1. Thanks so much–it seems to be an intermittent problem. I asked a couple of pals to call it up in IE and it seemed fine, but I have heard of others having similar problems. Doesn’t seem to be anything I can do, so I’ll have to live with it. Appreciate the heads up and thanks for visiting.

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