Keep, Throw Out, Give Away

You know when your house is super janked and filthy and there's something in all that mess that you KNOW you've seen recently, it's in there somewhere so you've got to just put on some good music and start making piles? Yeah. Sometimes in the midst of the two years of revision of my book before it sold, I felt that way - my agent did, too. We could tell there was something in this ginormous word count that we felt, if we whittled away the crap, we could find. Every editor who wanted it but ultimately passed seemed to feel that way, too. They all had their own ideas about new plots, less cussing, more romance, less emotional growth, more action, on and on and on and on. It got super confusing.

But every editor left me with another string to pull, and the knot began to loosen, and my agent agreed and disagreed and steered the ship and now there's this story left that feels - true. Not some heinous compromise, and not a crappy book written by a petulant brat who digs her heels in and refuses to listen to anyone's advice but her own - but the real story that was trying so hard to get out, were it not buried for so long by my own eager, anxious dumbness.

Do your family and friends, when you are editing and taking the advice of many people, get all up in your grill about, "Why do you have to CHANGE it? It's YOUR book, your story, who are these people?!?" Well. These 'People' are editors and agents and other various and sundry publishing professionals who know their audiences, markets, what have you - they aren't just random dumbasses off the street, they know what they're doing. And yes, their goal is to sell books. Which, B.T. Dubs, is my goal as well, otherwise I wouldn't have been trying to, you know, sell mine.

The thing though, is figuring out how to let the advice of all these smart people fall through the sieve of what you know or feel or have a hunch about what the story really is. Meaning, what is the point of it, why are you writing it, what do you wish the reader will understand or know or question when they finish? And that, I realize, is the only thing I did know about this book, the only thing I was certain of, which was why I was able to take all the advice and suggestions and changes, and eventually let what was not helping the narrative fall away, and let the other stuff guide me toward making the point of the story clearer. Without dumping it over readers' heads. You know?

At least it FEELS like I was able to do that. At the end of the day, it's the story I think it was meant to be. Which, plot-wise, did NOT start out the way it is now at all. It was over 100,000 words of "Um. What?" with a bit of "I think there's something in there somewhere...." and it was only with the help of agents, then MY agent, then a string of really enthusiastic editors, then my agent again...who helped me find the poor thing in the dark, cluttered basement of my spazzy mind. If I'd not let them, this book would have lived forever in my desk drawer - worse, it would never have been written. And I think its a good thing it was. Written, I mean. Its a book I would have loved to read if someone had only written it. So I did. But definitely not on my own.

The point, Dear Writers? Only that I've learned the lesson millions of real writers have learned before me: Don't roll over and surrender the entire reason you're telling this story, but learn how to recognize real help in telling the true story the best way you can. There are some ridiculous bits of advice out there ("Can you make sure there's a super steamy hot sex scene? Cause kids LOVE that! Sure it's totally counterintuitive to the point of the book but come on!") but if you are very clear about the true reason this story matters, why you think it could matter to readers? Those ridiculous bits will fall away, and the real threads to lead you will fall into your hands. Threads like, "This character does nothing but complain for fifty-three pages, could she maybe do some investigating into the causes of her distress...or something?"

Be brave, Dear Writers! Clean out that closet! FIll those bags for the Humane Society donation bin and buy some new hangers, ones that match! Let the purpose of the closet - i.e. the storage and organization of clothing - be its true purpose!

And now I'm mixing metaphors or something. Enough for now. Soldier on, Writers!