Sunday 10 February 2008

Writers Have to Make Choices

In my critique group there are quite a few of us revising finished manuscripts.

It’s a thrilling process, revisiting your words and discovering that you can recharge a scene in ways you couldn’t imagine the last time you read the manuscript.

But it’s also a terrifying thing.

One little edit throws up a thousand edits. Injecting nuance to a previously two dimensional character might mean weeks of re-imagining all the scenes the character features in.

Suddenly the revision is not just a quick edit but a total rewrite.

One novelist friend wrote me in an email:
I’m doing really well. The only thing is it's getting so I’m afraid I’m going to have to rewrite the whole novel!
What to do?

I found the answer when I was half-watching a movie in the wee hours while contemplating my manuscript.

The film was Wonder Boys (2000), featuring Michael Douglas (pictured) as former award-winning novelist Grady Tripp who we are led to believe is suffering from writer’s block. Except he isn’t. The real problem is that he can’t stop writing – and the script has hit an unpublishable 2,000 plus single-spaced pages. His creative writing student Hannah (played by Katie Holmes) reads the tome and delivers the following critique:
Grady, you know how in class you are always telling us that writers make choices? And even though your book is really beautiful, I mean amazingly beautiful ... at times it’s ... uh ... very detailed. You know, the genaeologies of everybody’s horses and dental records and so on. And I could be wrong but it sort of reads in places like you didn’t make any choices. At all.
What to do?

Make choices.

You’ve decided to edit your book.

So do it.


  1. All that hacking and slashing can be fun too!!!

  2. heh heh. i love hacking and slashing. who was it that said kill your darlings? inside every novelist is an editorial psychopath waiting to be unleashed.


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