When My Manuscript Gets Wiggy
I have found that people fall into two camps. (Yessirree! People who think there are two kinds of people in this world, and the people who hate them!) Anyway, I do feel, loosely speaking , that there are two kinds of people, writerwise: those who enjoy generating and writing new material but dread revision, and those who have a harder time generating and writing that first draft and are relieved to be at the revision state. I am the latter type. I think that, for me, this is due to how hard I find plotting, so getting that smashed down onto the page is a real challenge for me the first time through. And I have always felt like I can fix anything once I have it pinned to the mat. But in revising my YA novel, The Whole Stupid Way We Are, I realized that there is a whole part of revising that does freak me the heck out, and that is Adding Stuff.
When I was at VCFA, Alison McGhee did a wonderful lecture called “Cutting”. It was all about writing bunches and tons and then knifing away the excess until you had the distilled core of what was necessary and right to say what you wanted to say. I loved this lecture, and it’s very much the way I write, too. I never mind killing darlings, as the poet says. I actually kind of love it. It’s similar to the feeling I get when enforcing a strict “eating down” policy in my home (Eat a lot of leftovers! Combine weird ends of things and make a meal of it! Rid rid rid until that fridge sparkles with spareness!). It’s creepily satisfying. But whenever I’ve had to add a scene to a book, or sometimes even just a paragraph, I feel jarred. My manuscript suddenly feels unfamiliar and weird and like somebody else’s book. Have I disrupted the narrative’s mood? Its flow? The answer is almost always no—I’ve added for a reason, and the reason is always to do with improvement. But because I know the manuscript so well by the point of real revision, I think, any addition makes it feel like coming upon a friend wearing a terrible wig. Or seeing my dentist in a clown suit. Or a house with an incongruous porch. It’s just not right and is extra. Until, of course, it isn’t anymore, and I see that I’ve actually just changed the book’s outfit or maybe given it a new carcoat.
I’m pretty sure that cutting doesn’t have the same effect on me because what’s left is still familiar. How how about the rest of you? Do you have Adding Weirdness? I’d love your thoughts!