The Pain of Publication: Revising and Cutting

My first installment detailed my past attempt to get published.  This article is going to detail the last steps I am taking prior to preparing another deluge of query letters. First, here is an explanation of where my current project: it’s called Roland’s Legion and it could be described succinctly as Red Dawn meets Harry Potter. I could go into more detail, but this column is less about the plot of my novel and more about how you go about dealing with a novel.  My novel is in the midst of revisions by third parties (friends that I begged to read it and they took pity on me).  Two of my friends read, reviewed, revised, and critiqued the novel once. Then I did rewrites and revisions. At this point, 5-7 more people are going through that process again with version 2.0. I should have their notes in by the Christmas. At that point, I won’t have any more excuses for why I haven’t worked on my latest draft.

So now, with all the self-important preamble out of the way, its time to cut to the heart of this column: killing what you love. It’s easy, academically, to understand you need to tweak and change sentences to make a novel more readable. Over the course of thousands and thousands of words you are almost certain to put down some downright incomprehensible sentences.  Maybe you fall in love with a few, but diction is not the issue I’m covering here today. No, instead we’re talking plot.  Some readers questioned the purpose and execution of what I will call The Religion Subplot.  At first, I rejected the notion it needed to be changed. I could fix it, tweak it, and make it better. I would show my friends what it was that I meant in my brilliant manuscript even if they were too stubborn to see it. In fact, my first revision did see me overhaul and improve the The Religion Subplot.

However, my friend Andy, who was insane enough to read my draft a second time, still had some rather well-reasoned criticism of the The Religion Subplot. I had thought that I had fixed it, but his renewed complaints planted the seeds of doubt. After overcoming my own wounded pride, I decided to look at The Religion Subplot with as much objectivity as I could muster and judge it based on the following criteria:

Did it add to the world’s depth and history?

Not really. The words were dedicated to ‘selling’ the subplot.

Did it provide character drama and attract reader interest?

Yes, there was drama, but it seemed dangerously close to being the much-maligned Sansa chapters of my book as it distracted from, rather than enhanced, the major plot points in the novel.

Did it reinforce the major themes that I had worked on developing throughout the novel?

Not at all. I had written a novel about growing up too fast, moral boundaries in wartime, and lots of cool magic and explosions. This really did not add to them.

I am very lucky that much of The Religion Subplot can be rewritten modularly. By that I mean, much of it is divorced from the events taking place with much of the main cast, but has the effect of moving characters and altering situations that the main plot threads pass through. Even so, the prospect of taking between twenty and twenty-five thousands painstakingly crafted words (that I had already rewritten once) and throwing them in the trash hurt. All I can say, is follow your instinct. In addition to this raw ‘rewrite’ my whole novel will need to be reviewed, considered, and rationalized with the new story direction. I just made work for myself and that does not feel great. What feels worse is sticking with something you know isn’t as good as it can be. We all have to make compromises at our jobs and with our loved ones, but when you’re still in the infancy of your writing career I think its insane to go with anything less than what you think is best.

When I started my story, I thought that I had a cool and unusual subplot. And you know what? I still do, but its just not meant for Roland’s Legion. Every word is precious in a manuscript. Dropping a 250,000 word manuscript on some one’s desk, having them tell you its like Dune and Lord of the Rings had a baby in your brain, and winning awards would be great. However, as someone who has never been published you need to have a word count in mind and be disciplined about it. It forces you to cut through the crap, take out what matters less, and hone what you do have to the utmost of whatever writing ability you possess. And so, that is why, on December 22, 2011 I now pronounce The Religion Subplot to Roland’s Legion dead.

Next time I’m going to talk about working in short concentrated bursts amidst a busy life. For the first time since 2009, I have take off a full week of work and because I believe myself to be a writer, rather than enjoying time off in a warm place with my beautiful girlfriend, I am going to lock myself alone in a room and play with words on a computer. Hopefully, I will have some good news to report about how I managed to effectively use my limited time off to progress on things that are more difficult to work on during limited workweek situations.

Comments

  1. Jon Fuhrman says:

    This reminds me of that William Faulkner quote, “Kill your darlings.” Look forward to the next post.

  2. Since I was the friend who eventually convinced The Main Event to drop the Religion Subplot, I figure I should chime in here. As a writer, it’s no small feat being able to cut that much hard work and that kind of idea that you are convinced is going to be a great one if you can just make people see what you see. But as an editor, the worst thing you can do is not make the points you want to make for fear of disagreement or hurting feelings. Obviously you don’t want to criticize a writer so harshly that they lose faith in their ability, but you do need to communicate your thoughts even if just to give the writer another point of view about their work.

    In the end, I’m impressed that The Main Event cut the Religion Subplot. Not because it was terrible and he finally realized that MY opinion was the correct one, but because he listened to my commentary without buckling or lashing out and then took an objective look at his work and made a hard decision. That is incredibly difficult for a writer to do, so kudos to him for it. And of course for another well written article on what it’s like to go through all of this.

  3. You dealt with the ‘baby killing’ stage of writing much more gracefully than I did.
    A few years ago when I was producing a play I wrote, the director I was working with suggested that I drastically change the ending. My response was knee-jerk, very resistant and I seriously wondered (not out loud) why I was working with a person who obviously didn’t share my vision. Luckily the director was patient, and after a cool down period I went back to the script and tried to look at the ending with a critical eye, keeping in mind his comments. Like your religion subplot (‘Sansa chapters’ had me laughing out loud), it turned out it needed to be re-written, and that my original ending worked against what I was trying to say. To those less level headed than you, I suggest stepping away from your work and cooling down before your natural protective impulses get the better of you.

  4. TheMainEvent says:

    @Jon: Faulkner seems to have said it better and more succinctly than I managed!

    @Andy/Victor: I wrote my column with the idea of demonstrating how to best handle things, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t an element of butthurtness in my initial reaction. The process I described wasn’t a quick one: it took me well over a week to figure out how to best look at things. Once I did though, things became clearer, like I described.

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