Today I worked on edits for the book for several hours. It’s a mixture of feelings to do this. On one hand, you can go through a chapter (or more) and like a cultivator of a bonzai tree, you can snip here and add here. Mostly snipping, cutting away the extra things you don’t need and find the story underneath. But the other part of that is facing your flaws for a very long time. It’s almost like repeating a word over and over and eventually it begins to lose all meaning and sound weird when you say it.
Some parts have been very good to work on and after I was able to wrest myself from my social media addiction for a while, I was able to focus more on the story. I have been examining a couple of the things that have had me blocked creatively lately. I realized this when I was trimming the story down. I have been wondering on a large scale what the story is and sometimes, the minutae of the story tends to overwhelm the bigger themes.
I wonder what I should cut and how much. But then I wonder if the cuts are so important to me because I am struggling with the concept of just how long a book needs to be. It plays in with my fears and insecurities of writing, as it must apply to nearly any other writer out there; is what I am doing a waste of time? If the book is too long, who will read it? If I cut some things, will I lose a lot of what I was trying to say? Where the balance in that? Because right now, my biggest insecurity with the book is that no one will read it. It won’t mean anything. It will have been all for nothing.
I think I need to be concerned less with the number of pages and more with just making sure my writing is tight, or if something is even necessary, or how do I need to expound on something. I think I did that a few times today. Some of it was very rough. Some of it wasn’t. I had a few chapters I really liked and was happy to improve them.
I’ve been watching the show Normal People on Hulu for the last week or so. It’s not a show you can binge in just a day or two. Jeez, the emotional damage in that story…but I do find the characters fascinating and highly relatable. Like almost too relatable. The show has been encouraging as I write and edit too because it is a long story. Something like 12 or 14 episodes. I think books have had so much competition with movies that if the whole story isn’t told in 350 pages, it’s too long. A series like this (based on a book itself) doesn’t skip the important details. It has fleshed out these characters and their situations. These things give characters depth, they draw details out from their world too that are necessary to understand the story.
As I write, I realize my book is more like a miniseries or a couple of seasons of a show than it is a two hour movie. I’m going to work on telling the story better now, which might include trimming and cutting, but not to sacrifice the story for length. I shouldn’t be concerned about how many words or pages the story is. That’s a bad habit left over from when I used to write short stories. A magazine only had a few slots open for a certain number of pages. If it was really good, they would spare an additional slot for a bigger story. Otherwise, they were more than happy to put more stories into their space from a variety of authors.
We don’t need to know the Social Security Number of every character in my story, so I have to give myself permission to limit how much they appear. Right now I am tempted to cut years out of a character’s experience for the sake of brevity. I think it depends on whether or not I’m putting too fine a point on everything. And some details are just overkill.
The editing is a process, and unfortunately it plays into my insecurites of second-guessing myself at every turn. I’m going to keep working at it and find whatever story is living underneath all of that overburden.
What I do know is I work better when I’m not scrolling social media. January was my most productive month with that. I might need to get back to that again.