Jump back to the first time I went to make groceries in New Orleans. My oldest son was in the cart. He wasn’t strapped in or harnessed and often climbed back and forth between the seat and the cart, and I never gave it a second thought— Remember that. We zipped around the store to collect the items on our list like contestants in Supermarket Sweep— only we wanted our cash total to be the smallest possible. Once the groceries were made, we raced over to the cashier. And…I….thought……we……..might……….n-e-v-e-r…g-e-t…h—o—m—e— not even in time for dinner— that’s how slow the line was.
Eventually, I adjusted to the New Orleans frame of mind— which just so happens to mesh with my current point of view for living and writing with a maddening lack of urgency— but lost it as soon as I moved north. Interesting, eh? How life drops us into situations where we have the chance to experiment with mindsets that will eventually transform us.
Slide sideways into the revision process where I need to cut a novella worth of words out of my novel. Urgent?— to the nth degree if the manuscript is ever to snag the interest of a publisher. Maddening?— I thought you’d never ask.
The first 10,000 words— a snap thanks to my editor’s keen eye for zeroing in on useless darlings. Analyzing her cuts sharpened my objective eye, so the next six thousand dropped tout de suite. 16,000 down, 23,000 words to go.
Enter Resistance— Some stories need more room to breathe. Diane Gabaldon’s Outlander came in at eight hundred and fifty pages. Yeah, but I’m not Gabaldon and Kaitlyn’s story isn’t an historical Scottish epic. Okay, fine, but you spent eleven months fleshing out the story to turn it into an emotionally compelling read; if you chop 23,000 words, you’ll butcher its heart. Maybe. Maybe not.
And so, I plucked words the way I used to pluck dandelions. I love you; I love you NOT— DELETE! The word count dropped. But not in a way that provided hope for reaching my goal of 104,000-110,000 words.
Jump back to my theatre days, when directors sought me out to cut plays that were no longer within an audience’s ninety-minute attention span. Think Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, Euripides. I don’t know why, but it was easy for me to spot filler and box it out. Literally draw a box around the unnecessary passages, so the actors would know what to skip while still having access to the material useful for character development.
If I could do it for a play why not apply the same discerning eye to the bloated manuscript. I printed out the seven chapters in dire need of tightening and grabbed a pencil. It didn’t work. Not the way I imagined. But…
A Creative Shift occurred. The act of boxing out lines and paragraphs from the text forced me to re-evaluate how I absorbed the events of the story. Will removing this section create a pothole, or increase urgency? Do you want to keep this scene because it proves how you’ve grown as a writer or because it’s relevant? The boxing exercise also forced me to distance myself from Kaitlyn, which gave her “darlings” time to loosen their grip. The end result— three full scenes vanished, which dropped the words in need of deletion to below 18,000. Is a manuscript of only 110,000 words possible? Haven’t the foggiest. Doesn’t matter.
Skip back to me never giving a second thought to my toddler in perpetual motion whether in a moving cart, or my AMC Gremlin. I was damn lucky he didn’t fall on his head, or fly through the windshield. Fortunately, I didn’t remain oblivious. By the time my youngest son was born, my eagle double-checking safety eye was on high alert. A natural result of the ten-year gap between the time I gave birth to my first two sons and my third.
When this writing journey began, I whipped off a new draft every year without so much as a kiss my ass or have an apple. Just one of many reasons my story never passed through the publishing gates. And that’s okay. A toolbox needed to be built and lessons needed to be learned. My story and writer-me are stronger for it. That’s also why it doesn’t matter where the word count ends up— it will land where it’s going to land. And I’ll cross the next bridge of learning when I get to it.