My husband is always baffled when after working on something for three-four months I say it’s not working and delete the file.
“But you had like a 150 pages,” he says. And I say that it was 150 pages of nonsense. He sees the quantity and I see the quality. I can pound out 150 pages of complete rubbish on a good weekend; this does not mean that it’s a real story and worth saving.
I learnt an important lesson early in my writing career: you have to delete stuff that you write, even if it sometimes is 150 pages. You have to edit. I can’t tell you how many times I hear new (they’re usually new) writers say, “But I don’t want to edit my manuscript to death and kill its essence.” And I tell them good luck but if their manuscript isn’t tight they’re killing all hope of it ever seeing the published light of day.
Once a friend of mine sent me a short story; about 15 pages or so. I read the story and it wasn’t bad but it had many, many holes and I suggested that instead of going in and fixing this small that or small this why not a complete rewrite, just to see where it can take her – tangents are important in storytelling and this process would improve her short story. My friend was adamant, she had written 15 pages and it made no sense to delete the pages and start all over again. Who had time for that! Well, as a writer that’s what you have time for – that’s what it means to write.
People have this notion that the book just writes itself. The story just falls into place the first time around. That somehow the characters have names and histories and everything just works itself out.
I can’t say how other writers do it, but for me, I probably write two or three times as many pages as I finally end up with in a book. There are so many times that I will spend a weekend writing and then on Monday I will delete ten hours of hard work because it just doesn’t work. And this is why it takes time to write a book. To create. You have to go back and forth to finesse what you know and sometimes what you don’t know. It takes time and effort and hard work to get it right; and sometimes even after all that you can’t get it right and you have to abandon the story.
So here are my top three rules of writing:
- A story has a beginning, a middle and an end – but sometimes you can start in the middle and go to the beginning or start at the end and get to the middle; there are really no rules.
- You have to edit – there is no way around this one. I don’t care who you are and how great your writing skills are, you have to go edit. Writing is a subjective process and you have to become editor after writer to glean out the nonsense so you have the good stuff.
- You have to delete – yes; this is the hard-ass mother of editing. Sometimes you just have to delete. Sometimes you have no choice.