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.