Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Chop, Chop, Chop

I've been so swamped with paid work this month that I haven't had time to work on my novel (10-years-in-the making now and recently returned from two industry readers with similar remarks).  I actually ended up taking a class recently (I had the opportunity to take it for free nearby, and figured WTF).  

The class was supposed to be about the novel, but ended up being a pretty run-of-the-mill fiction workshop.  The effect on me was astounding anyway. Must have been just the right moment because I had quite an epiphany, realizing I need to lop off the last 250 pages (many years of my life right there) and focus on staying in the story, which unfolds pretty well in the first 100 pages.  (I got too big with the idea, not too small: also a danger.) 

It's a huge thing to do, I realize.  

It changes everything.  

But I think it's right.  

This revelation dawned on me in the class when people were telling this one woman that she needed to stop trying to write like writers she admired, and write like herself.  Not that I have that particular problem, but I was imposing something on the novel that doesn't belong to it. A cumbersome structure, it turns out.  

So, anyway, I am eager to push through my current dreadful, dull work deadlines to get to the novel.  At the same time I'm totally freaked out about the economy and don't want my paid work to dry up.  What a crazy balancing act.  

I'm taking a meat clever to the manuscript as soon as possible. Has anyone else ever done this? I wonder if there are historical examples of a similar process. Anyway, wish me luck.


The Quoibler said...


I haven't had to do this myself (at least not on such a grand scale -- my work is much shorter), but I liken it to literary euthanasia. Or perhaps literary amputation. (Lithanasia? Litputation?)

I think you're very brave to act upon your epiphany. Good luck!


C. Leigh Purtill said...

The first time I had to do this was at the behest of an agent who refused to read my book because it was 800 pages long (what did I know?). "Cut it in half and I'll read it." I didn't think I could - I felt it was like a sculpture and what was he expecting me to do, lop off an arm or a leg? But when I began, it was suddenly revelatory and I actually enjoyed it. I cut 400 pages from that first book, which was its length when it was eventually published this year.

Now I love lopping off the arms and legs of my novels. :)

Good luck to you.

rmellis said...

Good luck -- it sounds like the exact right thing.

Isn't it interesting how writing classes can work? Sometimes other people's struggles with their work can shine unexpected light on our own. And all you have to do is be there. It's not like other kinds of classes, with information pouring from the top down...

Anonymous said...

TEN (!) years, 250 freaking pages. Do you wonder sometimes if it's worth it?
How long will the finished product be? Will you add on at the point of amputation?
I find that a lot of novels fade off at the end. Unravel. My theory is that the authors didn't know where they were going when they set out. I'm not advocating rigidity, but I think you should have a good sense of where your story winds up, what state your characters end up in (Ohio? Idaho?). Think these things out before beginning to tap away!
A lot of writers/teachers of writing advocate NOT knowing where you're going. This is based, I believe, on a romantic falacy: the muse will lead you. (I also have an aversion to the word "epiphany.")
Many novels were drastically shortened at the behest of the editor -- the most famous example being Thomas Wolfe/Maxwell Perkins.

Writer, Rejected said...

Luckily, it's a novel about two amputees who fall in love and end up in Idaho, where they live out their lives in uncertainty. :-) So, I think I should be fine.

Writer, Rejected said...

(p.s. Hello Q. Long time no see. Where you been? Off somewhere writing?)

The Quoibler said...

Oh, WR, how I wish I had something terribly exciting to announce... but alas. I've been doing nothing more than laundry. :P

Okay, a few writing assignments and teaching modeling/acting on the side, but nothing that would rock your world.

(Loved the amputees in Idaho. Sounds like a movie-of-the-week, if they still air those things.)


Jade Park said...

My novel gets better everytime I chop large chunks out. The first time I restarted in a different POV--there went 200 pages. I got the voice and the story right in my 2nd start/revision...and got up to about 150 pages (somewhere in the middle)

Now I'm starting over again, to gather up the characters. That's throwing away those 150 pages.

I am one of those writers who don't revise a novel--I just start over fresh, trying not to purposefully reuse the previous draft.

And in doing so, I throw away hundreds of pages.

lobster darling said...

Sounds good. This is encouraging. Good luck, you.

Writer, Rejected said...

You guys are nice.