Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Turning The Page

So here I sit, a mere 12 pages away from finishing a major rewrite on a book I wrote many years ago and put away. At the time, I was frustrated by my agent’s demands that I change too many things, and when he told me he could not sell the work as it was, I laid it to rest in a clean white box with a printed identifying label and began writing something else. About a year ago, the book began calling out to me.

I have hacked away more than a hundred pages, changed the plot as well as the names of characters, and altered the way the action develops. I have led a ruthless search and destroy mission for the words ‘seem’ and ‘that,’ since both are almost unnecessary to writing. (‘Seem,’ in particular, is sneaky. In a work of fiction, everything, by definition, is ‘seem’ and it’s awfully easy to use it as a bad qualifier.) Oh, and did I mention my coldblooded hunt for any word ending with ‘ly’, such as ‘awfully,’ in the preceding line? I believe if you’re using an ‘ly’ word, you’re a lazy writer. There’s a better words available in the lexicon, but it’s too much trouble to find it and write a clearer, cleaner sentence.

I have done all these things, and more. Sentences that ran on no longer do. Split infinitives are re-united; oxymorons de-oxymized; colons and semi-colons questioned and found wanting. I guillotined clich├ęs, defenestrated truisms and roasted chestnuts on a bonfire. I have, in fact, waged a war on my manuscript and left inky bloodstains on every page. Now I wonder why I can’t administer the coup de grace. There are 12 pages left for me to go over, and every instinct whispers, “walk away; avoid the siren call.”

My reticence is partly because a book becomes such an intimate friend—or enemy—that it’s difficult to think of living without it. And what will I do with my time now that this demanding and insolent creature has a life of its own? The bottom line is, it doesn’t need me any more and this is hard to accept… I always get post-partum depression when I finish writing something lengthy, be it a novel or a major non-fiction article.

Winston Churchill once said that “writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.”

Damn, I hate it when a Brit is right.

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