Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Procrastination and Other Writerly Stuff

I’m really good at procrastinating. In five days I’m leaving for a writing workshop in Kansas, and my goal is to finish the current revision of my book by then. I’m over halfway through, but I’ve still found some pretty good ways to procrastinate. Sunday night I went to an evangelism training course thing. Last night I helped my dad and a friend start building a storage cabinet for the church. And tonight I’m writing this blog post instead of my novel. I’ve even got plans for tomorrow night, and Friday as well.

So here I am, listening to Switchfoot and writing about procrastination instead of writing what I really should be writing right now. But there’ll be time for that later.

Actually, this isn’t a post about procrastination, so if you saw the title and were hoping I’d have some great advice for you, sorry to let you down. All I can say is just do it. It’s what I keep telling myself.

And I will. Right after this.

The real purpose of this post is to put something that’s been bothering me for a while about revision down on paper (or pixels). Here it goes:

My writing friends are probably familiar with the phrase “kill your darlings.” For those who aren’t, it should be made clear below.  Anyway, as I said, I’m currently in the act of revising my novel -- my 137,000 word, 620 page novel. Now that might sound impressive until you hear that a lot of that is unnecessary to the story -- and I mean a lot. In my first pass through, several chapters have been chopped nearly in half. A lot of what I’m cutting out is fluff that I’m glad to see go, because I can see how the story improves without it.

But there are other scenes that are also unnecessary to the story, that I really, really like, that I’ve also had to cut. Why do I like them so much? Because I love the characters the scenes are about. I have tons of scenes where nothing happens, where the characters simply interact, and I like that because it was the characters that originally drew me to this story, not the plot. Even now I don’t care for the plot all that much.

Now,  character interaction is fine, to be sure; but as it is the reader would be bored because she’s been reading for several pages and nothing’s happening. Because I have plans for this novel that require it to be read and judged, I’ve had to cut down on these scenes. And it hurts.

Something else I’ve had to trim (chop) are the descriptions.  My book is told in first person by a man who, for the sake of brevity, I will simply describe as the monster of Frankenstein.  As far as he knows, he never existed before he woke up with a scientist telling him he was the first “human robot.” Because of this, everything the protagonist sees is with new eyes. He sees things like trees, mountains, sky, skyscrapers, cars, for the first time.

I saw a great opportunity here for vivid, even unique descriptions. And I still have that opportunity, but to a smaller degree than I first thought. Long paragraphs describing things that we are already very familiar with gets boring after a while, even if it’s all fascinating to the character who’s never seen anything of the kind before. So these descriptions have shrunk for the sake of pacing.

The result of all this is that I feel like I’m losing what I loved about this story to begin with: the character development. When I go back through for a second revision I want to insert some of it back in, more intertwined with the action of the story so that I can still have the characters without sacrificing the pacing. But for now, I’m swinging a hatchet and wincing as the blows fall. While I know that in the end my story will probably have benefited from the surgery, right now I can only see what I’m losing. Until I send off my finished manuscript to the judges, the rough draft may well be my favorite.

I’ve spent 43 minutes on this short post. Time to get back to work.

Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, kill your darlings....


  1. Great post - I'm excited about this novel - and yet I grieve with you. Hang in there.

  2. "All I can say is just do it."

    o_o that's exactly what I say to myself.

    1. It's really the only advice for procrastination I have. If only I could follow it more.