Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Big Cut is the Deepest

So I'm nearly done revising the first 150 pages of The Happiest Days of My Life. Or at least done the very first revision. No doubt there will be many more to come. But as I mentioned a while ago, I knew that something was slightly not right about the book, so I asked for editorial input, and got some fabulous ways to tweak the story.

So I'm nearly there, and I'm totally psyched about the improvements I've made. But I have to say...ugh...it is so, so, so painful to hit that delete key on entire scenes and see my word count dip so dramatically. Anyone else feel this grief?

I know, I know, that it is for the best. Trust me, the book is so much stronger for it, but still, part of me dies a little every time I have to do this. That said, the reason I'm actually blogging about this is because I think that sometimes, writers get too attached to scenes/ideas/characters that just aren't working, and for the love of God, while we don't want to cut them, we must! Whenever I hit that delete key, I remind myself that this book is a compilation of scenes and stories that all add up to one big package...and if any of the elements are off, well, the package can be a doozy. It CAN'T be about keeping one specific scene, regardless of how much it depletes my word count, because it just isn't fair to the rest of the book, not if that scene sucks the big one.

And so, with a heavy heart, I have axed, and axed, and axed, BUT, honestly, by cutting an entire subplot that I really wasn't thrilled about writing AND really wasn't popping off the page, AND finding a new subplot that infused the ms with a lot more energy, I really have done the book (and myself) a favor. And when it hits bookstores, I know that I won't regret it. Even when it breaks my heart (if only for that dang word count) right now.


Unknown said...

Oh, believe me, I am with you on the word count thing. It feels like a huge step backward even if it's a necessary step forward. Especially in a first draft, an increasing word count is your main sign of progress, so you get used to measuring that way, and then... gulp.

But yeah. Leaving it in and writing the whole rest of the book around it and THEN having to cut it out? So, so much worse.

Here's to progress! In all its forms!

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

I had a post on my blog in December when I was in the middle of MAJOR slicing and dicing that, along with the ball dropping in NYC, my word count would be right there with it. 10, 9, 8, 7... Happy New Year! (Where did my book go?) But, it rocks now, so I have no regrets. You know you're doing the right thing.

Trish Ryan said...

It's so hard to cut! It feels like you're firing people or kicking them off the island. In the long term you're glad, but short term, it's awful! And I can't even look at my word or page count when I'm editing. It feels like carnage.

I have a file called "Stuff" where I put cut material. It's essentially purgatory, as I rarely ever go back there. But somehow it makes the process feel less grisly.

Here's to keeping the big picture in mind!

Anonymous said...

Hang in there, Allison. It's so hard to kill off those scenes and the hours of work they represent, but we're all in a learning process. It's one of the best things about being a writer, even though it can also be one of the most frustrating. Jennifer Weiner mentions on her website that she didn't feel her third book was working -- so she scrapped the entire thing and turned to something new. Incredibly brave move, and it turns out, the right one for her. Once you've found a fantastic new subplot the writing is going to come really quickly. Probably part of the reason you struggled with this book is because you knew something was wrong and you were focusing on trying to fix it before moving ahead. Now you can let those fingers fly across the keyboard (oh, and coffee helps. Chocolate doesn't hurt either).

Anonymous said...

Sometimes an axed scene or subplot or some version of an axed scene or subplot can work in another manuscript. Be sure to keep copies of the chopped stuff. You never know...

Maya / מיה said...

This reminds me of that quote from Stephen King, "kill your darlings." Ha, I know that's the most unoriginal comment ever, but SO many great writers talk about how important it is to have the ruthlessness to cut. Good luck!

larramiefg said...

As much as you don't enjoy the process, Allison, I LOVE hearing this. In particular, "...I really have done the book (and myself) a favor. And when it hits bookstores, I know that I won't regret it."

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I've done that twice recently -- didn't you hear me scream?

I know the book is better for it, and the book reveal through the chopping wouldn't be able to exist without this process.

But still!!!

Trish said...

Like, Trish R., I save my cut material. It can be reworked for somewhere else or can inspire other stuff later.

So excited for you as you move forward, and I know all this cutting (eek!) and hard work will pay off!

Trish Lawrence

Katrina said...

Two questions. Do you feel the current state of the economy is dictating what books are being published? For instance, my second novel is about a mother caring for her adult daughter who suffers from a chronic illness. I am struggling to find an agent for it, although all my rejections are personal. You were able to write about cancer and yet didn't scare away agents, why is writing about diseases now so taboo? Everyone says that my writing is great, yet they say that the subject matter is a tough sell right now. Arrgh!! I wanted this to be my break-out novel and it's not breaking anything but my heart. I've written a third novel in the meantime and my publisher is gobbling it up, but I had hoped to have an agent by now to help me. What would you do, wait to see if the second book can find an agent or go ahead and sign the papers on the third book even though I'm sure the contract will be bad? Do desperate times call for desperate measures or is patience a virtue on this one?

Dead Woman Walking.

Anonymous said...

You mention the pain involved in paring back manuscripts. I know it well. My last 1st draft came in at 420 pages. I add another 40 and cut a total of 110. I don't even like to think how long they took to write. That said, I've actually developed an almost masochistic pleasure in being ruthless, except where certain passages I'm especially fond of are concerned. It's like taking your medicine. It may taste nasty, but somewhere deep inside you know it's doing you good.
(Maybe a better analogy is dieting. In which case beware of anorexia!)

caboozie said...

I'm not so concerned about word count right now, because I think I'm over what is necessary, but seeing this post today was so timely. I was thinking this very thing today! I know I need to change direction with the plot, but I was so in love with some of the scenes, I was really struggling with cutting them. Thanks for the words of wisdom. They are so right on!