You know, I thought it would be a lot of work – hard, tedious work – to get back to my languishing manuscript and start editing it. Again.
In actuality, I’ve spent a total (compressed, all-mashed-together time) of maybe six or eight months working on this thing. The rest of the time I fought through blocks, I fought critiques which left me tail-spinning, I fought through that stupid I-get-sleepy-when-I-open-my-document thing which happens … all of them internal mental issues, of course. But whatever the case, I had a hard time getting to it. Then the death knell tolled – I got more than halfway through what I determined would be my final edits when the thumb drive on which I’d saved most of my work died unexpectedly.
And without a back up anywhere.
I never really recovered from that one. It demoralized me to the point of being unable to get back on the saddle. So I didn’t. I tried a couple of times, but … my heart just wasn’t in it.
Then, about a week and a half ago, I decided … what the heck? What’s it going to hurt? I haven’t done anything, not really, concerning writing in so long I probably can’t make any improvements anyway. I’ll just … look at it. What’s the harm?
Before I knew it about an hour and a half passed, and I’d condensed the document from a full chapter of about 1200 words down to about 800. I decided it wouldn’t do to have an 800-word chapter, so I went on to the next one. Same thing. I combined them.
I felt pretty good. It was easy to do – I was surprised how easy it was, actually. I spotted the problems and issues and fluff without much forethought. I cleaned up the prose after gutting it. I realized how weak, flabby and bloated the prose was and … well, gutted it. That’s the best word I can use to describe the process. I wish I could do the same to my body – just open it up and slash out everything I don’t need. Man, I’d be about 145 pounds and 5% body fat. That’s how it oughta be.
Anyway, next day I did more of the same. I ended up taking three chapters of my “second edits” and combined them into a single chapter of about 3200 words. Then I went on to the next chapter, and the next, and the next. So far, I’ve mashed six chapters down into two, and that process isn’t completed yet as I write this. There are more to do, and many to be discarded. I found entire chapters I could dump during my last edits; this time the reduction will be even more dramatic, I’m sure. Last time I took the document from 94,000 words down to 87,000. I’m not sure I’ll have 70,000 when I’m finished with it this time.
In some ways, it’s scary. I can’t explain how I’ve been growing as a writer. I’m not writing. I’m not reading. I’m not participating in critique groups. I’m not part of a writer’s circle. Every once in a while I read craft blogs by writers and occasionally I’ll wade through one an agent posts, but for the most part I don’t have the resources to do that (long story which most of you already heard). But here I am, able to look at work I haven’t seen in eighteen months or so in any way and I’m able to improve on it, smooth it out, reduce it, tighten it, make it … passable.
Then it occurred to me: Maybe it’s because of the work I did with the #flashfriday pieces and the technical book. (Okay, it didn’t occur to me – it occurred to my wife and SHE occurred it unto me, sorta.) Staying within very restrictive, tight guidelines and practice minimizing my prose made me stronger. MUCH stronger. And it shows.
I’m excited now. I jumped back onto my edits at a point I called Chapter 14 before. I have thirteen chapters which I’ve had the temerity to call “completed” staring me in the face, waiting for me to open them, daring me to see what I can do. Can I edit, reduce, tighten, strengthen, and retain the integrity of the piece? Its humor, its characters, its banter and wit (such as it was)? Or will I edit the life out of it?
One thing becomes obvious in this. I’m still growing as a writer, even though I’m not writing, and that is clearly the work of God in my life. You may disagree, but that’s the way I’ve seen this, and He deserves the credit; any talent I have comes from Him anyway. And because the growth is still happening, the process has become fun again. I’m excited about it again. And one other thing has become obvious for me too.
At the end of this process, this reduction and editing round, I will know whether the original story is worth saving or if it’s time to move onto something else. And just having that resolution alone is worth more to me than I’m able to express. I feel a freedom I haven’t felt in about three years. I can’t wait to see how this all turns out.
Stay tuned if you’re a mind to.
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