Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Cut to the Chase

By Martha Reed

February was a very productive month. I kept to the editing schedule for my new manuscript religiously. For any writer out there hesitating on the fence, I can’t say enough good things about my experience of hiring a freelance editor to review my first draft; it really helped me shape my revision. Having the Pennwriters conference to look forward to in May helped provide a deadline, too. But what I really wanted to cover today is the rush I got when I started editing with a mission and cutting my draft to the bone.

I usually have a pretty good idea of the plot that I want to cover and an estimated length when I start a new novel. Historically, with my first draft I clock in at about 125,000 words and 30 chapters. This book was different; I blew right past that word count and hit 425 pages before all was said and done.

The new length didn’t worry me for a couple of reasons: 1) I’m using an ensemble cast and I expected to explore some distant regions before I tightened it up and brought it home in the editing cycle, and 2) that’s where the story wanted to go. What is surprising is how almost effortless the trimming process was now that I have the whole thing in my hands and I can go back to the beginning to edit things down. I’m feeling a freedom with editing that I know I didn’t feel in draft mode. When I open a chapter now I almost distill the rewrite; it’s that much clearer. Last weekend I enjoyed it so much I finally had to force myself to put it down on Sunday at 9PM because my wrists were sore from typing.

An ironic and wonderful thing came out of this rewrite, too. Smack in the middle of my work was a chapter that introduced an adolescent girl named Hailey. I can clearly remember working on this chapter and I know when I drafted it the material flowed effortlessly. Now imagine my feelings when I read the chapter in rewrite mode and realized Hailey had to go. She had to get axed. As great as she was, she didn’t fit in this book. So I hardened my heart to select and delete when a revelation came over me and I realized that she is not only in my next book, she IS my next book.

Now I have to finish this one, to get to that. Anticipation is a simply great feeling!


PatRemick said...

Wow, Martha! Very impressive. I feel like a slug in comparison. You're in the zone -- and another great book to look forward to. I hope I get there soon!

Martha Reed said...

Thanks, Pat! The zone is right. Took me long enough to get here but boy, is it fun. I feel a little like Hines Ward when he gets the ball (and he starts smiling).

Joyce Tremel said...

I'm glad you're having such fun with your rewrite! I'm almost at that point myself--I should be wrapping up the last chapter this week and printing it all out.

I LOVE revising.

C.L. said...


I'm interested in how you set a schedule for yourself. I'm close to a rewriting point, and am seeking advice on how to put together a 30 day schedule.


martha reed said...

Hey, Joyce. That's great news! Good luck with the rewrite and jump on in.

CL, my drafting schedule in weekends in the morning for six hours. For editing, at this stage of the game its 2 hours after work each day plus a 10 hour day on the weekend. It sounds like a lot but it's not, when the end is in sight.

Annette said...

Go, Martha! I've learned not to completely delete those great characters and scenes that don't fit. Instead, I copy and paste them into a "cut file" where I can possibly use them somewhere else in the future. Plus, it makes "killing my babies" a little less tramatic.

Martha Reed said...

Hi, Annette. I have a file folder like that too. Its kind of fun to go in years later to review it and see if there's anything in there I can use.

Patg said...

You make the most valid point for not rewriting before you finish the book. Sometimes stray idea, or characters here, cross your creative mind and you need to get them down. Later, they may have to go, but they may also be something for next time, which looms over us all as the dark cloud of fear that we may never have another creative idea. And wa-la, there you are, you have something.

Martha Reed said...

Pat, you're right, and it was one of the hardest things I had to learn - not to edit too early and to allow myself to roam all over the board in the first draft. Anne Lamott covers this in her brilliant Bird by Bird. I, however, have to relearn it every time!