Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, April 20, 2010 27 comments
"A penny saved is a penny earned," says Ben Franklin (or St. Ben as he's usually perceived here in Philly). It's a maxim that our "buy now, pay later" culture would do well to heed when it comes to financial matters.

The problem comes in extrapolating this idea to every area of life. There are times when being parsimonious, frugal and thrifty are not good. Dickens dramatized a life of thrift taken to extreme in A Christmas Carol. In Ebenezer Scrooge we see a frugality of money and of feeling. Scrooge's background explains much of his parsimony, and at his core is a soul cut off from the sources that could heal it. He learns in the course of the story that true wealth is found in extravagance and generosity.

I've been deep in the revision process for many months now, and I'm realizing that parsimony has no place. This is not the time to hoard hard-earned words. The more I resist completely chucking pages, the more I become a Scrooge. I become hardened and closed to my characters. They don't speak to me, and the story dies.

Early drafts are a road map, not the treasure itself. Be brave, friends, and willing to freely and extravagantly rewrite every single word of your book if necessary. That hard-earned currency of character and story that came in the drafting process needs space to breathe and the freedom to surprise you still in revision. Open the window and toss out the coins like Scrooge on Christmas morning. The generosity will repay dividends you can't yet imagine.

Do you struggle with a frugal heart in your writing and revising? What scares you about being an extravagant reviser? How does Scrooge's story encourage you?
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27 comments:

  1. I used to think that my words were carved in stone! Now I bend them around, cut them out, anything to make the story better. But it took years for me to get to this point.

    I believe in the save up and then buy strategy. I wish more people did. It makes it more worth it once you do get what you want.

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  2. Ooh, boy. I, uh... I've never revised like that. My stuff's never been long enough to need to revise like that. I am now sweating a tiny bit. But at least I can postpone the sweating until, maybe, late fall, or something, when I start revisions on the novel in earnest. Oy.

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  3. I'm in the midst of revision now, too. Great advice. It's so hard to part with those "hard-earned words," isn't it? But worth it.

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  4. I'm almost too good at chopping. Sometimes I worry I've chopped all the good bits and the heart right out of my MS!

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  5. I agree with Talli, sometimes I feel pushed (by myself and the things I read) to ruthlessly edit, which sometimes causes me to take out more than I should have. I'm working on it, though :)

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  6. Usually I can chuck stuff without problem, but sometimes I fall in love with pieces or chunks of text. When I fall in love like that, it's much harder. :-)

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  7. Oh yes I struggle as I'm absolutely positvely SURE that every word I've written is the perfect one. :O

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  8. I'm getting better at cutting entire chunks of my novel and rewriting - or writing around them. I used to just edit/line edit. Not good for the story at all :)

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  9. Today, I re-wrote two chapters. After this initial edit, I'll need to run through again and beef up the setting.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  10. Aubrie: Me, too. I hope I can encourage others to be gutsy where I've been a coward for so long.

    Simon: This is one of the hard lessons I'm learning--that rewriting yields stronger results than line editing.

    Talli: For you, extravagance will look different than for a natural miser like me. You'll have to learn to love your good bits more deeply and let them stick around when your inclination is to streamline.

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  11. Janet: Courage, friend! The final product will be stronger for your extravagance.

    JEM: Balance is key--be neither a miser nor a spendthrift--but be generous with the needs of the characters and the story.

    Shannon: When the needs of the story dictate, I also hang onto choice lines, even if the scene or chapter around it have to go.

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  12. Bish: Hee hee. Getting critiques at regular intervals can quickly cure one of that. :-)

    Jemi: Once I let go of trying to salvage so much, the story has improved exponentially and I'm loving it more every day. Rewriting rocks!

    Susan: Wow, that's speedy. I find rewrites slower than drafting, but my end results have been very clean according to my two crit groups. Sounds like your method is a layered one.

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  13. Revising is so tough! Great post, I definitely needed it today. Each word I have to decide if it's worth keeping, if it even makes sense where it's placed or if it just needs to be destoryed... Phew, it's exhausting!

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  14. I started an almost complete rewrite of my first novel, and I think the second writing is far stronger. I'm hoping I don't need to be that intense with the second novel, but I am tossing out some scenes entirely. They did nothing for story progression. Sometimes we need to know the stuff we write in the first draft but nobody else needs to.

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  15. Jen: I find that when I ask "how's the best way to say what needs to be said here?" it's more creative and fun than asking "how can I salvage what I've already written?"

    Tricia: See, this is why I picked you for the Soulmates Award!! I'm in the same boat completely (though I'm only beginnin to draft book two). It can seem "wasteful" to write scenes we don't use, but those scenes were part of the road we had to walk to get to our destination, so the work isn't really wasted. It grew our understanding of the character and story so we could get to the destination.

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  16. I relate completely with your thoughts. It is especially hard to through away a killer first line...pure agony. Thanks for your insightful comments yesterday on my YA novel. I appreciate your help.

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  17. Hi Laraine. I wrote five very different beginnings to my novel, so I know what you mean. Good luck with your story, and not to harp, but your voice is most excellently middle grade, and I encourage you to stick with that. It's a great genre!

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  18. This is great advice. I'm heading into revisions soon and I'm afraid I'll have to rewrite every single word. I'm pretty fearless about it though. As long as I still like the story I'll be fine.

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  19. Great post, Laurel! It is so hard to cut chapters, sentences, even one word sometimes! I recently cut out four whole chapters from my WIP- I was a bit sad and actually a little bitter of the fact that everyone had the same opinion, but in the end, my heart felt lighter afterwards. I knew it was the right decision.

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  20. Revision is where you story really starts to sparkle. It’s long, agonizing, and annoying too.

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  21. I have finally embraced this thinking, cutting huge swaths of my words from my eighth draft(or is it ninth? I've lost count). It is helping the book, for sure, but I still get a little panicky as I watch the word counter drop little by little.

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  22. T. Anne: Absolutely. Love for the story should drive every revision.

    Kelly: As Aubrie said, it can take years to learn to revise extravagantly. The encouraging thing is your skills are better than when you first drafted, so your rewrites should in theory come from a place of greater craftsmanship.

    Southpaw: I'm finding the agony goes away when I don't try to salvage what I already did, but instead try to "say it best."

    Jenna: Counting is for the guys with the adding machines and green visors. You, friend, are an artist. No one measures art by how much paint is on the canvas, but by how true and moving the image is.

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  23. Wonderful analogy. There are two types of writers - those who pad and those who are sparse. Stephen King pares down each draft because he's too wordy. If we're padders, we must be ruthless to leave just what we need, which is easier said than done.

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  24. Hi, Theresa, and thanks for the follow. I'm finding the generous rather than ruthless analogy helpful to my thinking. I'm giving the story room the breathe rather than whacking off fingers and toes, you know what I mean? But it does make me feel good to be in King's camp. :-)

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  25. I am very wordy in my first draft.

    I have learned to be ruthless during revisions. After I've let the first draft marinate a while, I can look at it with fresh eyes and rip those darlings out without so much as a blink.
    The pain settles in when I look at how little is left... how much I have to rewrite.

    Good luck with your revisions, Laurel.

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  26. I'm also deep in revisions. I don't mind cutting. I understand that I might be too wordy in my first draft.

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  27. Lola: I think my wordiness comes from the tendency to dramatize every scene. I'm learning to embrace the narrative summary to improve the pacing. Converting five pages of dialogue to a few paragraphs has been SO HARD! It took "marinating" as you say, to see which conversations improved in summary.

    Medeia: It's funny, I'm a mix of wordy in some aspects and too sparse in others. I find I need to add a lot of internal thoughts and voice in revision.

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