Effective writing takes both time and effort. It can, however, be a labor of love. At least that’s what it is for me. When I write, I feel centered and aware of Presence. For me, writing is a form of prayer. So today I’d like to share with you my method of writing/praying a story or an extended manuscript.
In 1989, I channeled the manuscript that was later published as A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story. Originally, Dulcy gave me 42,000 words. In 1991, Jane Meara, an exceptional Crown editor, asked me to cut the manuscript in half by concentrating only on the relationship between Dulcy and me. The result was Dulcy’s first book. The words I deleted became the main part of Dulcy’s second book: A Cat’s Legacy: Dulcy’s Story.
The scene reflects what the first draft of anything I write looks like.
The key to cutting was the word relationship. With that word I was able to ruthlessly delete extraneous words and incidents from the original draft. We writers need something to keep us grounded in the thrust of what we are writing. That something may be a keyword or it may be a question, such as “What did the character do that led to this or that effect?” Or “What do I need here so as to build suspense?”
In an earlier posting, I explained that for thirteen years I’ve worked on a novel that takes place in first-century Palestine. The first draft of that novel boasted 212,000 words. Ultimately, I deleted 86,000 of them. How did I cut so many? By repeatedly asking myself, “Is this word, incident, character necessary to telling the story?” “Does it advance the plot?” “Does it build suspense?” “Does it show the reader something necessary?”
I simply kept chipping around at the rock formation of the manuscript until I arrived at the “sculpture” that revealed scene, plot, character. Something like the photograph below.
A sculptured face that illustrates the classic Veracruz culture of 600 to 900 CE.
As with Dulcy, I tend to be wordy. My writing style is to simply sit at the computer and let the words come—willy-nilly. I write until I’m written out. Word after word. Scene after scene. Lines of dialogue followed by more dialogue.
I do that in writing my on-line memoir. Often, I’ll write 1,200 words on a Wednesday morning. Then I’ll assiduously cut to fewer than 600 words. Thus, I need two and a half hours to write, polish, and edit a story and then a half hour to select photographs and post. Three hours in all.
And yet Friko, a blogger whom I read faithfully because I enjoy her attitude toward life, once shared that she needed only twenty minutes to write a posting. My first attempts simply aren’t that good. I must decide what is the essence of the story from my life: what do I hope to communicate? Then I must delete every superfluous word no matter how clever or revealing it is. Anything that does not advance the story to its ending has to go.
I try to do the same with this blog. I ask myself, “Does this word, phrase, sentence help explain my topic?” If it doesn’t, it’s deleted.
Now, how about you? Do you write everything down and then judiciously delete? What’s your secret of success?
I hope you’ll share the crafting of this blog with me. Let me know with your comments what you’d like me to write about. One of you has already requested that I write about the use of which instead of that as well as the use of commas. I hope to write that post soon, perhaps as early as next Sunday.
“Landscape with Trees” by adamr from freedigitalphotos.com