When every word hurts
In this rather hectic world of ours, now and then one will hear parents talking about quality time with their kids.
“Yes, I only see them for like one hour before they have to go to bed, but it’s quality time, you know?”
Hmm. As an experienced mother, I’m sorry to tell you it doesn’t work that way. Quantity is, at least with kids, a prerequisite to quality. Actually, that goes for a lot of things – it’s back to the basic fact that practice makes perfect. If you bake 100 apple pies, chances are pie number 100 will be of a much better quality than pie number one – unless you have a very, very bad recipe. Or take knitting; that first sweater looks anything but perfect when you look at it with the eyes of an experienced knitter with 26 sweaters under your belt. It also goes for writing. The more you write, the more you trash, the better you get.
It’s a painful exercise, to cut down your text. (Which is why I am so glad I’m not into writing poetry. I admire all those who do, as this is an art that requires a surgical attention to nuances and constructions – and a horribly sharp paring knife to go with it.) It’s even worse if you’ve fallen in love with the cadence in the particular piece of prose that’s up for slashing – every single syllable you delete is like tearing off a finger nail. And yet there is no was around it, a woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do …
Nowadays I try to do this as quickly as possible. I take a big breath, mark out the paragraph(s) that have to go and hit the delete button. I stand up, take a little turn and say something invigorating like “Right!” before sitting back down again. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! It’s gone! That beautiful sentence that began with “Everything sizzled…” is forever erased. (Ha! Of course not, it’s saved in an earlier draft version, but when you have like 78 draft versions it’s going to be hard work remembering in what precise draft I had that particular wording.) Unless you’re into masochism, this is probably where you should turn your editing efforts to another scene in your fantastic Work In Progress, this to allow the pain of the recent amputation to recede somewhat.
I guess I’m not the only writer to reflect on the fact that the actual writing takes much less time that the editing, rewriting, rethinking, re-everything. And I’m certain is not only me that spends far too much time pondering whether or not to add a comma. Most readers will never notice – or care. Hopefully, most readers will be so engrossed in your STORY they won’t really care if you’ve left in an excessive adverb. (Phew. I can hear a collective, relieved sigh from all the writers who’re reading this.) And not one single one of these our future readers will heft the book in their hand and think “I wonder how many words he/she cut out during editing?” – well, unless they’re writers too.
I have just (a few weeks back) finished a novel. Truly finished, as I’ve signed off the proofs and now there will be no more changes. Ever. The final version is approximately 110 000 words. The total number of words I’ve written is closer to 300 000 (including rewrites) That’s 60% that at some point has been slashed and/or replaced. It has been polished and re-polished multiple times and yet I already know that when I read this my creation in its physical form I will immediately zoom in on the (only?) semi colon that should have been a comma.
As some sort of comfort, it is very apparent that in my following books (have I mentioned I’m writing a series?) the quantity/quality equation has changed somewhat. It’s no longer 60% that is deleted, but perhaps somewhere around 30-40%. Major progress for which my sore fingertips are eternally grateful. This just goes to prove my point; with quantity comes quality, and with even more quantity comes more quality making the editing a walk in the park. I hear experienced authors snort. Editing is never a walk in the park, no matter how qualitative your texts. True, but at least it will be less painful with time.
“You think?” I hear someone jeer.
Yes I do. Or at least I hope so. So do my fingers.