Friday, December 10, 2010

Kill your darlings...

Part 3 of: From Blank Screen to Printed Book OR Writing the Book was the Fun Part...

It was William Faulkner who advised, "In writing, you must kill your darlings." I now know exactly what he meant.

Usually putting together a thought on paper - or screen - is, for me, painfully difficult. The words must be dragged from my brain, cursing, kicking and screaming. I type, I delete. Pause. Type and delete again (which, by the way, I have just done here - several times). But on very rare occasions, the perfect phrase or sentence or even entire paragraph flows out of my brain, through my fingers and onto the screen. Those moments are what I imagine a runner's high must be like. I feel breathless and brilliant. I want to grab that sentence and hug it. I want to protect the words and I can't believe I would ever delete them. 

Then comes REVISION. And, no matter how much you adore those words, if they are extraneous to what you are trying to share with your reader, you must ruthlessly hit the delete key. And it hurts. 
In the late summer of 2009, I met with my editor Suzanne and we talked about what I wanted the finished book to be.

"Is this a business how-to for entrepreneurs or a personal memoir that's about what you experienced?" she asked. 

I laughed"You kidding?? No one would want to start a business the way I did!" This was a no-brainer"A personal memoir about what I experienced."

"Then ditch as much of the business stuff as you can and focus on you. That's what your reader wants - she wants to know what you were feeling, not how you calculated gross margin. How what you were doing affected the rest of your life." 

I found myself squirming - suddenly feeling extremely uncomfortable. Suzanne leaned toward me. "You're like most women - you find it hard to think in terms of "me". Focusing on yourself is difficult, foreign. It makes you uncomfortable. But that's why readers will love this book. They will identify with you and the issues you faced. They will care about you and will want you to succeed. They don't care about the numbers and the business details." She sat back in her chair and smiled. "You want to write a how-to book? We'll do that next."

And so began the revision process that would last close to a year. I would review a chapter, completely rewriting in some places, fine tuning in others, and cutting, cutting, cutting. All the cuts would be pasted onto the end of the chapter so Suzanne could review them. I found it hard to focus on myself and in the early chapters she would patiently point out that I was cutting the wrong stuff. I would go back and rewrite again. We settled into a pattern where, when she felt something needed work, she would say things like "Show me, don't tell me" or "I can't see this" or "Put this into scene” or “This phrase/word is overused” and I would go back and often struggle to completely redo a paragraph, a page, a section. The early chapters took three to four rewrites, but slowly I began to hear her in my mind as I typed and the rewrites dropped to two or three per chapter. But more importantly, her comments now were more targeted, more advanced – making my writing better. And I knew it. It was an amazing feeling. 

When the revision was complete, she congratulated me again. “Now put it away for a month or so, then start at the beginning and do it again.”

It wasn’t what I wanted to hear especially, but this time I wasn’t taken by surprise and I knew she was right. I put it away for a few weeks, then opened the word doc that was the first chapter and started again. This was when I realized just how much I had learned. I saw things I hadn’t seen before. I deleted, I rewrote, I added scene and I made it better. By the last chapters, the changes were minimal. When I was done, I had cut the manuscript from 150,000 words to 73,000 words.

“Alright, now print it out and send it to me,” Suzanne said when I told her I was done. “It’s my turn.”

To be continued...

This will be end of the saga until after the Holidays. I need to step away from the blog for a couple of weeks to work on formatting the book. Oh yeah - and to shop, wrap, decorate, bake and spend a wonderful week in NYC with my family and some close friends (I may post a photo or two).  Happy Holidays!

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