Be Ruthless

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Look, I'm not going to lie (as my son often says).  I want to think I've written 89 perfect and contiguous pages of the novel that has lately sat with me (weighed on me).  I want to tell myself.  Hey.  Good job.  Only two-thirds of the book to go.  I've already written this book twice, after all.  I've already done the time.  I've celebrated completion on two separate occasions, only to have the victory medal stripped from my scrawny neck.

Perhaps, my agent said.

Perhaps you should consider, an editor said.

And, yes, sure, on a chapter by chapter basis (the chapters read in isolation from each other) these brand new 89 pages work pretty well. 

Put the chapters together, though, and you have a momentum problem.  You have a stutter stall of tension.  I have tried to pretend that such problems don't exist.  I have tried to look ahead to page 90.  Foist myself upon it.

But the truth is the truth, and you aren't a writer if you can't be ruthless with yourself.  At 3 AM this morning, I tossed 40 some pages that took me weeks to write.

I cried a little.

Then I turned the music on and danced.

When critics wonder, as some critics will, why books take so long to write, they should perhaps consider the buckets and buckets and buckets of words that get tossed to the virtual floor.

12 comments:

Karen Harrington said...

Comforting to know writers are not alone when they get to this place in the gestation of a work. Glad you are taking time to dance!

Melissa Sarno said...

I just recently killed 10,000 words and now I want to jump out the window with them. (Not for real. I'm just being dramatic. It's a state of being these days.) I wish you could come over and dance with me!

Beth Kephart said...

Melissa — I'm coming!

And Karen, maybe you'll come too?

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I always have to remind myself how inefficient writing is and that it's okay it's this way.

Lilian Nattel said...

I know the feeling, Beth. I'm glad you danced your way to feeling better. And yes--exactly--there are many books on the floor for each one that ends up in print. At least the good ones!

Lilian Nattel said...

Melissa, throwing out 10,000 words is just an intro to the whole throwing out theme of a writer's life. My first big experience in throwing things out was in draft 3 of my 2nd novel where I threw out half the novel. And that was just preparation for Web of Angels. Along the way I threw out hundreds of thousands of words. Some of them very good ones, too. I saved a few of them for my website where, under freebies, I have a deleted scene.

Lilian Nattel said...

Oops I typed too fast! My website (with deleted scene under freebies) is here: http://liliannattel.com .

Mandy said...

From a loyal reader's standpoint, those tossed words are worth it in the end. The final versions of your books always capture me. :)

Sarah Laurence said...

Congratulations on the 40 page cut! I feel your pain. It helps knowing that I'm not alone when tackling such a monumental rewrite. Now I understand why your short novels feel longer and fuller. The best writing is rethought, reworked and reduced.

Serena said...

I agree, this is the toughest...throwing out pages and words

Wendy said...

Beth, I completely commiserate. I have written a lot of stories - only a handful have ever made it to completion (and by that, I mean I wouldn't mind if someone actually read them). My nanowrimo novels (four of them) have never made it through any kind of editing process. Honestly, I don't know how authors actually complete the beautiful novels they do. It is hard, hard, hard work.

Richard Gilbert said...

Boy can I relate to this, having just cut over 100 pages from the memoir I am working on. And books take so long because it often takes repeat versions, new versions, not just that a person wrote and wrote and could never finished. S/he finished many times!!!

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