Throw away all those extra words…

Since I have returned from NY, I have made a conscious effort to be more self involved. I am pretty sure that isn’t how most people go about enlightenment, but I did realize that I needed to spend more time and energy on myself, rather than on others. This meant that a few people received brisk text messages and emails from me (mostly they were hard to write, one gave me such a thrill that I did wonder what on earth I had been doing speaking to this person in the first place) and this is how I cleared my social calendar.

So today, for whatever reason, I woke up at 4 am. That is incredibly early. It’s so early that people in America were still awake and I managed to waste the first two hours of my being awake talking to people on MSN. That was silly, but good, because I was all interneted out by 6 am. And then I sat down at my desk and started to re-work my novel, which has been laying around, unhappily untouched for several months now. Which was extremely silly, because it is finished. By finished I mean, all of the chapters, plus a few more, that I had outlined originally have been written. There is a beginning, middle, and end. Plot, climax, dialogue. Oh, snap.

But all writers know: just getting that all done does not make a piece finished. It just means that you are now onto the next stage of writing, which is editing. This is maybe my least  favorite stage of writing. This is because it involves re-reading every single line you have written, out loud, maybe with a funny voice here and there, and being ruthless. But I discovered a very happy fact: Letting a manuscript age in a drawer, as somebody famous once said, I am sure, is the best way to get over my biggest writing block, which is my love of my own words.

All through college and university and even most of my writing jobs, I was writing on a really tight deadline. So, I would get an assignment and start my research, take my notes, sketch out my papers or stories. I was never the sort to put a paper off to the last minute, I was always a very meticulous student. But I wouldn’t leave myself much time to let a paper simmer– what student does? You have so many papers to write, even if you start each one the day you get it, you are still working on a tight schedule. So my editing of all my papers and stories took place very very soon after my writing them. And so, even when I knew I needed to cut a paper by 200 words (or worse still, 1,000!), all I could see was how achingly beautiful my sentences were. I have a lot of ego about the beauty of my prose. My main problem is that each of my sentences do tend to be very well crafted, but they don’t always flow into the next one very well or advance the story or point of the paper in any way. As Mr. Holdstock says: line by line, you create something lovely, but as a whole, the thing needs help. Ouch. But true. And so editing was always a bitch: how do I know what to cut? I love each sentence independently, so how can I possibly cut any of them, just to make ‘cohesion’, that foul little word used by editors.

But editing is like packing: easier to do if you let something sit in a drawer long enough. And by this I mean, when I move, and I move a lot, the first things to go into the trash are the things I haven’t looked at in months. I just started packing up my things the other day, in a fierce rage of having too many things and feeling weighted down, and it was incredibly easy to look at a lot of things and go: well, I haven’t used that in MONTHS. I don’t even remember why I bought it or why I thought it was important. I won’t pack that to take to Istanbul, so why do I own it now?  In the end, I have far fewer things in my room and I am very happy about all this.

In my novel? Well, I haven’t looked at it in ages. And I forgot why I told Holdstock and VanWinkle why I had to keep this chapter or why it was incredibly important that this scene appear in a certain spot. In the end, I am chopping and splicing my novel as though I were Dr. Frankenstein, just checking to see if it would actually be better to have an arm coming out of the forehead. I am even experimenting with cutting in pieces of my other, partially finished, novel. It’s like a crazy laboratory in here today and I am loving it.

So, my new literary advice: forget about what you are writing about. Leave it for a few months. Go and get an all-consuming hobby, like doing everything on the “101 Things to Do in London Before You Die” list.  Go on a mini break to your home town for a month. Be too social. Feel like everyone around you is doing so many more creative and wonderful things than you. Feel a bit overwhelmed. Have a sort of breakdown where you become a hermit that bakes cupcakes. Then tuck right back in. Well, at least do steps 1 and 8. Just try and enjoy yourself in between and don’t beat yourself up too much, because we can’t all be productively creative every day.

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