This title is intentionally alarmist in hopes of attracting you to read and, perhaps, comment. My book isn’t really disappearing. In fact, the final revision (prior to professional editing) is moving along nicely. And in that process, I am omitting many story threads I once considered indispensable. Characters, even whole families, are vanishing, as though swallowed up by a sink hole. So I apologize for my sensationalism and clarify that my book is changing profoundly, not disappearing. And I am fascinated by the process.
Some say the hardest part of writing a book begins when the rough draft is finished. Not for me. For me, composition is a wild tiger I have to tame. Revision is a playful kitten I get to enjoy. I am excited at the tightening and intensifying of the story as I “Murder my darlings,” a “practical rule of thumb” from Sir Arthur Quiller Couch. In my own words, here is an extension of his advice: “When in doubt, take it out.” And the falling away of verbiage is fascinating to me.
Gradually, I had come to suspect that subplots and characters I’d poured my heart and soul into and thought would rivet the reader were actually irrelevant. A sister reader nudged me along that line of thinking, and then an editor to whom I submitted confirmed it. “The first chapter introducing Jessie hooked me,” she said, but the next chapters from other characters’ perspectives “did not pull me into one coherent story.”
I am now happily revising the tale as exclusively Jessie’s. For a simple example, consider the significant difference between “John was understanding more and more…” (as though we’re inside his head) and “John seemed to understand more and more…” (from Jessie’s perspective). Now multiply many times the scope of making such changes, and you can realize how major the revisions are. But the shorter, crisper story is–I think, I hope–more compelling.
Remarks of two other authors whose names I can’t remember come to mind. One said he decided early in his career to do everybody a favor and omit sections that readers would probably scan. The other observed that he never heard anyone complain about a book being too short.
I profit greatly from the experiences and wisdom of other writers. Their insights open me up to the creative process, so that instead of being threatened by major changes to my work, I welcome and revel in them. Even when (gulp), much of what I’ve written disappears (into the files, that is, possibly to be used later).
Writers, what advice has affected your methods?
Readers, does the writing process interest you, or only the finished product?