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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hack! Hack! Hack!

     Hear that? It’s the sound of me hacking the heck out of my manuscript. It’s so hard to let those words go. Even harder now than when I worked in advertising. Copy was shorter back then. There didn’t seem to be as much at stake. An account person said, “Change this. Shorten that.” I was okay with it, aware from the first that my baby wasn’t really mine. As I’ve said before, many, many people are involved in cranking ads out. We have a term we use enthusiastically when the “collaboration” seems to have gone seriously awry. It’s called a clusterXXck. (C’mon, fill in the blank; this is a family blog.)

     In contrast, this baby is mine, all mine—and here I am slaughtering it! I’ve cut 9000 words so far. More edits are to come before my deadline of October 31. Hopefully I’ll have the perseverance to keep it up.

     Here’s a little secret. After the first one thousand, cutting words became almost fun. It’s like taking a sledgehammer to a wall. So cathartic. I realize now that my first pages were bogged down with boring backstory. On the bright side, writing it out wasn’t a waste of time because I needed to know all those things in order to cement my characters, and their history, firmly in my mind. But my readers didn’t, especially not in such detail.

     Think of it as a CIA operation. In novels, everything is on a strictly need-to-know basis. Ironically, some of what I removed from the info-laden beginning is materializing further on in the story—usually in dialogue. I’m noticing that the things that reappear are points vital to the story. Everything else has the sense to stay where it belongs, in the outline that’s for my eyes only.
     Aside from initiating the carnage, I don’t feel like I have too much input. Everything is kind of falling into place. It has been a liberating exercise and one that I recommend. So, save a backup of your original, and then hack away. You can always revert to the prior draft, but I bet you won’t.

     Before I go back to my demolition project, I leave you with Florence, and urge you, dear writers, to hack with wild abandon. Like machines. Take that manuscript and shake it out.


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