So, you’ve got a draft in the bag and you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, this feels good. No, this feels awesome. I wrote a BOOK. I deserve a cookie.
And you do, maybe. But there’s a danger in that line of thinking, and the danger is in thinking you’re in any way done.
It’s easy to do. Typing the conclusion to your story has a lovely ringing finality to it, especially if you’re particularly dramatic (like me) and brazenly type an all-caps middle-finger-to-the-tribulations-of-the-draft “The End”. And certainly the draft tires you out like a machete-hacking slog through vine-tangled jungle. The problem is that when you hack through the jungle like that, you leave a path of carnage behind you, all broken stalks and fallen branches and trampled flora. Sure, you left a path. One with wrong turns, with dead ends, one that doubles back on itself like a stuffed bear hunting woozles.
And if you wanna do anything with that story, you’ve gotta fix that thing up.
Time to shift metaphors.
(OMG a metaphor post. I LOVE A METAPHOR POST. METAPHORS BE WITH YOU. OMG STAR WARS IS OUT SO SOON OMG.)
The draft, magnificent as it may be, is untamed, untanned, raw, like a side of beef fresh from the slaughterhouse. It can one day become a dazzling array of savory filet mignon, perfectly marbled ribeyes, staggering sirloins and lip-smacking ribs, but you can’t just toss the thing on the fire and expect it to come out delicious.
Maybe it calls for the hatchet.
Separate the poor dear into its component parts. Look at how this part connects to that part, then level the axe and hack it away. Dice the monster up into bits, first torso-sized, then leg-sized, then hand-sized, then bite-sized, ready for stewing. Examine each bit for disease and rot, weed out the tainted, and package up the rest for market.
Perhaps the knife.
A more delicate approach, but a more elegant one. Your story is riddled with extra fat, extra gristle, and before it’s fit for consumption, it needs trimming. So you go to work. Shave off a bit of overdone character development here, open up a gash in some disarticulated plot points there. Maybe a thin gash all through that one vein of a ridiculous MacGuffin you planted to let the rancid blood out. You slice, you shape, you shave, and send the leaner, comelier carcass on down the line while repackaging the trimmings to send to the dog food factory of your future projects.
Or maybe the Rocky treatment is more your style.
You’ve got some seriously pent-up rage from your trip through that disastrous first draft. The story came out hard and angry, like a kidney stone on methadone, a tight-wound spur of bone and tendon and agony. It needs tenderizing, and you’ve got a prize fight coming up. Time to tape up your knuckles and take out your aggression on the story’s knotted bits. Overly preachy villain? Bam, a gutshot to take his wind out. Malformed plot-lines? Skrak, a wicked cross that scatters their teeth across the stain-resistant cement. Mushy middle? Wap-wap-wap-wap, a flurry of undercuts to punish the soft flesh, and the bowels turn to water and the poison gushes out. You punish the knotted, sinewy flesh to a smooth, melt-in-your-mouth buttery consistency, which serves the double function of icing your knuckles and venting the anger and hurt and frustration you’re nursing from the draft.
(Funny sidenote: run a google image search for “Rocky punching meat” and you will find the above image, again and again, in varying color washes, resolutions, and sizes, like a bizarro Sylvester Stallone stained-glass mosaic, as if it were a painting from the 1300’s.)
Whatever tool you choose, the thing to remember is that the draft, as incredible as it may be (and it is incredible; for god’s sakes, you wrote a fargoing book, how many can claim that?), is not a finished thing. It’s a step along a path, the first few miles of a marathon, a pit stop at the moon on your way out to Mars. Whatever tool you use to get on with the fixing, you must wield it fearlessly, recklessly, even brutally.
Which is not to say you shouldn’t stop and take a moment to appreciate the draft, as imperfect as it may be. Do that. Put the pen down and appreciate for a moment the story you’ve built for the thing of beauty it is. Some of its imperfections will serve to make it perfect. Most of them will not. Stand back, have a drink, and bask in the magnificence of those imperfections.
Then put the story on the block and start lopping those imperfections off.
This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.
8 thoughts on “The Weekly Re-Motivator: The Butcher’s Shop of Edits”
Ok, you’ve really touched a nerve there by referencing Rocky. All time favourite quote from that movie would have to come from the character of Paulie – Adrian’s down and out, rough around the edges but ultimately good intentioned brother – who says in exasperation in one scene to his sister : “I want you outta here instamatically!”
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Just a great American story in every way.
Oh how you do make it sound so painful! For me it was more like pottery on a wheel, easing out the sharp edges, bringing the excess to the surface and then delicately shortening it from a 5′ tall vase to a novel shaped cup, while preserving the rest as an urn containing the charred remains, hopefully to be one day resurrected as something altogether fresh and exciting.
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The illusion of control, eh?
It really is easier for me to think of it as a violent, cathartic act. Dust on the floor, busted nails and jagged edges everywhere. That way you can make all the mess you want while you’re about it… just as long as you’re prepared to clean it up after.
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What do you mean “illusion”? 😉
One could be forgiven for thinking there’s an interesting dynamic going on here between you two.
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Yeah, I troll Linda’s blog for inspiration, and she trolls mine to nitpick my delusions about the writing process. She thinks it’s all magic and fairydust, or like some goobery scene from “Ghost” (just look at what she wrote up there! That, amidst my beautiful Rocky metaphors!), but we all know better.
Of course, what can you expect from somebody who says “about” like it’s a piece of footwear?