The writing life is a whole shit-ton of guessing and experimenting and hoping, and then finding someone to tell us that we stink in some places and are pretty brilliant in others.
Knowing what prose to keep and what to toss is subjective—at least until your readers read your published book, then subjection goes all out the window and into space-ace-ace-ace. Having an editor and perhaps a trusted and very-truthful-even-if-it-hurts friend/colleague is super important—for everyone, everyone, EV-ER-EE-1 (and I’ve learned this lesson the hard way).
But you have to listen and apply. After your beautiful perfect book has been ripped asunder, go to bed and yank the covers over your po’ wittle pea-head for an hour or two or twenty and then pull up your big boy undies and your big girl panties and suck it the hell up! There likely isn’t a one of us who hasn’t been scathed and burned and shredded by an editor and/or trusted colleague/friend. If you climb down off your high-horse, you can better see the piles of poo that need cleaning up so your horsey can freely gallop. And your manuscript will be the better for it. I done climbed (been bucked) off’n my high horse a time or two, by golly! And I’ve done some burning and scathing and shredding of other writers’ manuscripts. (I say this to my personal training client but it applies to the editor-writer relationship: hate me today; love me tomorrow!)
Have you ever watched deleted movie scenes and thought, “Glad they took that out!” Imagine if those deleted scenes were still there. We may think, “That’s really out-of-left-field/silly/doesn’t make sense/over the top/ boring/self-indulgent . . . .” (Sometimes Me thinks about some long movies, “Should’a cut some of this danged ol’ movie . . . ungh.”)
But because things can never be easy (insanity! Insanity! Insaaannity!) maybe a deleted scene is great and you may think, “Hey, that’s a cool scene; why’d they take it out?” Sigh.
But folks, really, no one notices the place the deleted scene(s) once occupied—and they have a reason for taking it/them out, right? Even if only because Big Movie Head says, “This thang is too long. Cut it or I stop paying the bills.” We moviegoers are unaware of all that work and cutting and drama—which is how it should be.
Here’s what happened with one of my novels that I’m most proud of (Sweetie): I’d given the manuscript to my editor the evening of my deadline and the very next morning I contacted her in a panic, retrieved that manuscript back from her, and immediately deleted 2 chapters up front, 2 chapters at the end, and rewrote a good portion of that manuscript at.the.very.last.moment. I shudder to think of what Sweetie would have been without my last minute deleting and reworking. And, really, I knew it before I sent it, but didn’t listen and apply my own instincts, until, of course, I did. I love that book and so did (do) many readers.
Be true to who you are but perhaps, she gently says, stop trying so hard to: show people what a Writer you are; that you can write like/better than so and so; step in the way of your characters because you, the author, has something to say or a rant/vent or a lesson to teach or whatever it is that is getting in the way of your characters being who they are. When you write what isn’t Yours, or write to please someone else (your mom, your partner, your readers, your publishers—yup tha’s what I said, your publishers—been there done did that—all those voices need to be out of your way) then the result when you type “the end” may be bloated and gassy—urp. Grab that sucker by the ankles and shake the ding-dang-dong out of it. Turn it inside out and upside down and sideways and thump it on the back. Give your manuscript some Gas-X, y’all!
If it fears you to no end to use that precious delete key because you just looooooooove a phrase or paragraph or scene soooooo much and you’ll just diiiie if it’s not in there, you can save a copy of your manuscript in another file under a different name, like “Darlin’ Killer Take 1.” Use the re-named manuscript to rip the be-jeebus-dangity-doo out of it. Splash/dribble/sprinkle paint on it in a furious Jackson Pollock. Put a pink lip-print on it. Dress it in diamonds, and then rip off those diamonds and slap on some overalls. I dunno. It’s your book—you know what to do! Yes you do! Do too.
Hey! How many times have you written something you thought was GOLDEN plucked straight from the GOLDEN tree of GOLDEN words, and then when you had someone read your work, they never mention that GOLDEN part, but instead they mention some other part you hadn’t even paid attention to, and in fact, you almost deleted that scene because it seemed so, well, NOT GOLDEN, and you didn’t even find it that interesting or brilliant or SO KICKASS WOW I AM THE GREATEST WRITER EVER! What the Helvetica? They liked that and not this wonderfulnessnessess? Well, rip me in two and call me double-danged. Guess what? We writers aren’t always the best judge of what a reader will respond to and love. No, really. No, really. No, reeeaaaaallllly. I shrug.
Look folks, all we can do is use our gutty instincts, be true to ourselves and our characters and their world, write with heart and sincerity, stop thinking ahead to the day it will be published and then we’ll be showered with money and accolades and awards and legions of reader-fans knocking down our door. And then we find someone—hire them or if you are lucky enough to have a really good free editor at your publishers or a trusted friend/colleague who is kickass at editing or all of those—to give us the unvarnished truth. And then we listen and apply.
And finally, of course, know when to say, “This is it, done . . .” so it’s not fiddle-danged to hell and back. How do you know when the manuscript is done/completed/ready? You trust that inner voice that says, “I’ve done all I can do. I’ve listened and applied what makes sense for me and for my work. I’ve Gas-X’d the bloat. The-effing-End.”
And, now, as I defy all odds of ironicnessess, rushing to complete my chaotic ramblings with nary a care in the wild wide world, because I waited ’til the last minute even though I know I can be shredded to pieces for content and ridiculosity: What, oh what, my friends, do you have to say about all that?
**Side effects include: nausea, headache, worry, angst, sobbing into your pillow, throwing a tantrum, love-hate-love-hate-love-love-love, loneliness, extreme highs followed by extreme lows, over eating over drinking under eating under drinking, melancholy, euphoria, loss of friends who are tired of hearing your book’s plot, seven kinds of hell followed by twenty more . . . .