Too Many Words

I’ve discovered my weakness. Too many words.

I don’t mean the spoken kind. I mean the written kind.

One of the best things that ever happened to me occurred when I wanted to submit my work to a contest. I thought I’d written a pretty decent piece. Then I saw the word count.

Gulp. I needed to ditch a couple hundred words.

But my piece was already perfect. Really.

But I also wanted to enter that contest.

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to try to cut a few words. Surely there were some contractions I could create.

I dug through the whole piece, severing with a ruthless eye. Then I checked the word count.

Only ten less words? That couldn’t be right. I’d been so cruel with my hacking and slashing.

I checked the count again.

Okay. No error. Now what?

I took a deep breath and tried again. I don’t take kindly to quitting. This time I’d be brutal. Maybe there were some phrases I could shorten, or an explanation my readers could live without.

If I thought the first round of cuts was tough, this one was killer. All my beautiful words deleted away as if they meant nothing. As if they might actually have been unnecessary. And they were such pretty things.

At the end of the deed, I’d chopped all of forty.

I wrung my hands. What next? Whole sentences tossed into the trash?

I needed time to mourn. I read through the piece for flow, allowing myself to drink in the words without the pressure to morph into hatchet lady.

Well, then I felt stupid, because you know what? The piece was better.

I sighed and got in touch with my inner chain saw. By the end of the day, I’d made the cuts with a few words to spare. And yes, the piece was tighter, cleaner.

In other words, better.

I popped it in the mail and waited for the contest results.

When the winners were posted, my name did not appear. I really ought to have pouted or something, but I couldn’t. My five dollar entry fee bought one whiz-bang editing lesson.

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So, About Rewrites…

I think the whole writing process would have been simpler if we had named it rewriting.

Take my kids, for example. They write their paper about ancient Greek culture and they think they’re done. The term “rough draft” evokes a horror somewhat akin to having a cell phone that doesn’t text. They simply don’t see the point.

But if we’d just called it rewriting, then they couldn’t stop after the first draft because, well, that’d only be writing.

But here’s the thing about rewriting- it’s a lot harder than writing. Writing is the creative spew. Anything goes, and it can be really, really bad. Rewriting is when you rein it in and turn it into something really, really cool. It’s about analyzing, finding problems, creating structure, and checking for idiocy.

It’s also where you learn to be humble, because as soon as you think you’re done, you find some willing guinea pig to read it for you (who isn’t your mother, because she also thought your squinty-eyed, pointy-headed baby picture was cute) who finds all kinds of imperfections.

Now you have to decide whether you’re willing to torture another rewrite out of your shattered ego, or whether your book is good enough the way it is. After all, maybe that person didn’t know what she was talking about.

If you’re in it for the long haul, chances are you’re gonna do that rewrite. And that’s the rub. Every time you rewrite the thing, you’ve made it the best it can be given your knowledge and ability level. But then you go and learn something new (inconvenient, but crucial to success), and you’re suddenly better than you were before, and now you can make that manuscript better, and so you rewrite it again, and again, and again.

Folks, this is vicious and not for the faint of heart. I think it’s why many writers hear voices in their heads.

And wouldn’t have it any other way.

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I Send My Proposal

I stand in line at the post office.

A long line.

I have lots of time to think.

Did I remember to put everything in the package? Did I spell my name right? Would Mr. Important Agent think my writing inept? Inane? Irredeemably moronic?

Nothing like hanging yourself out there where you can get a big, fat rejection. But sooner or later, you have to be ready for the truth. Today’s my day.

I hand my package to the postal worker, plunk down my seven bucks and stride away. Then I go home and mark off eight weeks on my calendar. Eight weeks and I’d see my SASE come back with a rejection, OR maybe, just maybe, (because if I didn’t think there could be a “just maybe” I hadn’t oughta be wasting anyone’s time) there’d be good news…

So what’s this proposal thing I’m sending? Basically it’s a big, long thing that you have to write after you write your big, long book. No novice ever knows about it until after they write the book because if they did, they’d just quit before they go through the months and months (or in my case, years and years) of writing the book to begin with.

But once you’ve sweated all your creativity into your book and exhausted all your pores, you discover that you have to sell the thing. No one is actually going to knock on your door and say, “Hey, I hear you wrote a book. I’d like to publish it.”

At this point, one of two things happens. You discover that you’re a writer, and you’ve got to press on because you just can’t help it, or you discover that this is way more complicated than you imagined, and you take up skeet shooting instead.

In my case, it’s the former. So I groaned and whined a little (okay, maybe a lot) then I went to work again trying to figure out what the heck a proposal was.

Let me make things simple. Publishing is a business – it costs money to make books. The key to publishing success is basic. Sell books for more money than it takes to make said books. That means they have to be pretty dang sure a book will sell before they pay to put the thing together. So the proposal is a big long document that presents why my book will sell. But here’s the trick- no one ever really knows for sure what will be a big seller and what won’t. Lots of books miss, but some hit really big, and the publisher stays in business when the big hits are big enough to cover the not so big hits.

Don’t get me wrong. The whole deal is not so cold as it sounds. Yes, it’s a business, but everyone in the business loves books. That’s why they do what they do. They want to find a great story and fall in love with it and bring it to the world so the world can fall in love with it too. That’s part of the proposal’s job as well – to make the decision makers fall in love with your story and want to publish your book.

No pressure or anything.

Just all my hard, sweaty work for months and months going through the post office in that stark white padded mailer.

Did I mention that I had to put sample chapters in the proposal as well? Fifty pages for this particular agent. (Yeah, just to make things harder, every agent and editor has slightly different guidelines for what they want in a proposal). And it’s not like you can select the best fifty pages either. For a fiction book you’ve got to go in order. Hopefully page fifty ends with a doozy of a cliffhanger. And if it doesn’t you’d better think about a rewrite.

Oh, yeah, rewrites. We’ll get to that next time. Meanwhile, I’ll mark off one day on my calendar.

Seven weeks, six days to go.

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