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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Manuscript Massacre - A Writer's Nightmare

Hemingway's house in Key West, Florida. It's beautiful. It was here that I penned the first few lines, jotted down on a piece of scrap paper, of what would ultimately become the manuscript entitled Losing Meadow Brook, while sitting in the garden. The scrap paper was a receipt for a book we bought there. It was tucked carefully inside the back cover.


Islamorada Key, Florida
Back at our hotel that evening, I'd transform those few lines into an introduction. They were as crisp and perfect and beautiful as the setting sun over the Caribbean sky that night. As I wrote the book in the following months, each word was a labor of love. I was experimenting with a new voice, and a different style and allowed the dance between the characters to develop fully and take control of the story.


Me, ignoring all the rules of proper comma placement
 Straying from my natural tendency to produce a narrative that Kevin Costner could be reading in Dances With Wolves, I freed myself from the confines of my own voice, and experimented. I didn't write it for my fans (hi mom), or any market, or for anyone other than myself. I allowed the story to flow and I followed along and let it become whatever it might. It was a beautiful experience.


115,000 word novel personified
When it was complete, I knew that it was something special. The only trouble was that it came in at over 115,000 words. It was too damned big. When I had it test read, it was well received, but a portion (20%?) of the readers said it started out too slow for them and it was too wordy at times in the beginning. They were right and I knew it. I also knew the story could be told with 90,000 words. After a year, the time has come to face the monster I created. 


Happy Trees!
The artist inside of me scoffed at the notion of a work being "too long." It should take however many words it takes," I told myself. However, the practical side of me has had to come to terms with some harsh realities:
  1. Traditional publishers or agents aren't particularly fond of "emerging authors" (whatever the hell that means) writing novels in excess of 100k words.
  2. My existing fans are of the age (not exactly "tweens" or even twenty-somethings) where they prefer an actual book to read over e-books.
  3. If I self pub at 115k words, I'm going to have charge $400 retail on my paperbacks (same reason the other guys don't want them to be that long). I have no idea how many €'s that would be, but with the current exchange rates...I'm guessing...a lot.
  4. It's just too goddamned long for what it is (a novel, not an Ayn Rand or Harry Potter book).  
  5. No matter what B.S. I spew about not writing for an audience, my stomach turns to know that some people will put it down and never pick it up again if they feel for even a second that it's too wordy.  

If I don't finish this novel by midnight, I'll turn into a pumpkin
Time and pressure can turn coal into diamonds. It also has a way of eating away at the resolve of a writer's natural bent toward procrastinating things they don't want to do. It's impossible to start something new with such a herculean task hanging over your head. No matter what you work on, it's always there, gnawing at the back of your brain.


"Nurse, hand me my comma scalpel. I'm going in."
Like a surgeon, I opened the file and looked at the words. With a tiny scalpel, I could remove bits here and pieces there, and my pound of literary flesh might not seem so vital.


Why you should never read blogs while in the shower.

But it isn't a pound of flesh we are speaking of. It's 20% of the novel. It will require more than a surgeon's scalpel to flesh it out.


Enter The Editor
At twenty percent, a large knife won't even get it all. It will be gruesome and painful. And the worst part is already known to me. Those first few beautiful words I wrote in Key West that started it all...every single of one them will fall to the cutting room floor. And whatever do you do with words like those?


Let the chips fall where they might. The battle lines have been drawn. 20,000 words shall perish in coming days, or I'll die in the process. I'm going in...

Thanks for reading!

Buzz

10 comments:

  1. No-one conducts a slash fest like a determined writer with his doughty pen!

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    1. "Doughty pen." Hee hee. It's so painful. So horrible. It's like cutting out your own spleen. Thanks for reading Teagan.

      Buzz

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  2. Look at it this way: Your beautiful introduction can be set aside and used in another story (maybe even a sequel). Cutting lines, scenes from a manuscript doesn't mean burning them on the flame of regret and crying over the ashes. Just store them for later use. That way your effort is not wasted, your ideas not lost and your story is tightened.

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    1. Thank you, Simon. Of course, your version of events does seem to lack the dramatic flair of watching pages curl in an open flame as black nothingness engulfs each word and the charred ashes take flight upon some westerly wind... but you're right of course. I'll probably leave them as is in a saved original version, and future generations of scholars can study them and try and determine what madness caused me to cut the finest prose from the finished book. They'll no doubt speculate that it was those decisions that ultimately caused me to die in relative obscurity and abject poverty, unappreciated and rejected by the establishment. Or it might just make the book a lot better and cause the story to flow. Either way. Thanks for reading, Simon, and thank you for taking the time to comment!

      Buzz

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  3. Yep - I'd agree with Simon: save those words! (Slicing and dicing your manuscript is how you (we) get to what I like to call "seamless prose." BTW: years after I filled one journal with almost a year's worth of words, I reread it in one sitting and realized that out of the "ga-zilion" words I'd written, my best was one sentence. Everything else was crap.

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    1. Kathy, isn't that true with most things that we've written in the past? I mean, as we grow and advance as writers, almost everything we look back on seems like crap, doesn't it? I know that's why I am rewriting so much of my older stuff today. And, fear not...of course I am saving those words! If nothing else, I'll collect them into an anthology of random words and have them all read as part of my eulogy so that others will be forced to hear them. Thank you for commenting, and thanks for reading! Much appreciated.

      Buzz

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  4. I sure enjoyed reading this, although I should have been doing my own writing instead! My more famous book is Two Mothers, Twin Daughters, but I really should work on getting those others marching out on to to the front lines!

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    1. Well, stick around, Marilyn. Read a while. There are 70 other posts to choose from here. Procrastination and wasting time is what we're all about on the Buzzy blogosphere! Thanks for stopping by and wasting some of it with me. Thank you for reading, and best wishes with your work.

      Buzz

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  5. Even if you cut the first words that inspired your novel, you still have a MUCH better story for how your book came about than mine.

    The dream I had that inspired my story was a scene from the book I had yet to pen. When I got to that point in the story, I had to change how it was in my dream. Made the story flow, but my inner author cried, as if I was ruining a perfect moment.

    But if it makes the story better to cut the words, then cut it. Keep the receipt, though.

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    1. Unless either of us end up on some Oprah show talking about it, how we came up with our story probably won't matter as much as the story that resulted. It's a long hard road, this writing game, and nobody would ever know when you're done with a story how much blood, sweat and tears went into the thing.

      Best of luck, and thanks for commenting and reading!

      Buzz

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