Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sometimes you have to say goodbye...

to something you're writing. Tell me if this sounds familiar:

You've had ideas floating around your mind for days—you set up the place you're going to work in, grab a cup of coffee, turn off your cell phone, and begin writing, pouring out all of the images, words, catchy phrases, and greatness you're thinking you've just given birth to. You spend hours, maybe even days, on this treasure you've brought to the surface, only to find out (when you go back to edit) that it's crap.

Drek. Merde. Garbage. Fecal matter.

It's not that the ideas themselves may be entirely rotten to the core, but the execution was. Maybe it's both. What you thought was divinely inspired was just purple prose. You try to convince yourself that there's something salvageable about it, but the more you read it, the more your heart hurts. It happens. So, you do the thing that makes you ready to cry: you open the document, highlight the text, and... hit Delete. Painful, isn't it.

The other scenario is no less frustrating: you offer your story up to someone for feedback, and he says,

 "This chapter wasn't for me, the reader. This was for you. You needed to work out the kinks of the character (scene, plot, tension, conflict, etc.). So, now that you know this, you should just cut this."

That means the pages or chapters that you thought were the most inspired words only served to be literary calisthenics, prep work for the real deal later on. Again, you delete the text, demoralized and ready to grab a shot of whiskey.

A dear friend of mine, who read my novel before it was published, told me that chapters of my novel were unnecessary for the reader. So, I did what any good writer should do: I sat in a dark room for a while, wallowing in my self-pity for — oh — about an hour, and then I took a deep, cleansing breath before re-reading those chapters, seeing if it was even remotely possible that my friend was correct.

And he was.

I rewrote sections of my novel, excising parts (saving them in another file!) that I had truly loved but realized were not going to advance the plot. But, I found that by doing that, I actually freed up soooooooo much space to develop the ideas that really mattered. The pain diminished, the despair went away, and I felt much more pride in my work.

Saying goodbye to part of your own soul is hard, but when you know you can replace with it with an even better part, the farewell isn't quite that bad after all.

Until the next time it happens...
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