I had a good friend tell me this the other day, something he heard at a YA convention, and I really really needed these 6 words.
I’m in the trenches of editing hell, and it has been a very trying experience. I’m watching scenes that I spent hours on get tossed aside like clippings out of a lawn mower. And I am mourning.
But I probably don’t have to be.
They tell you to write every day. They tell you to kill your darlings. They tell you to let your first drafts be shit. But they don’t tell you how much turnover this means a manuscript will have. I’m at the point where I’ve probably written twice the words within the boundaries of this manuscript than are currently in it, maybe more. I’m reminded of what John Green once said: 90% of what he writes for a novel he throws out. That was staggering and insane when I first heard it several years ago. Now I’m seeing the truth in it.
We live in a world of “one-and-done”, a world of instant gratification and easy work-arounds. Writing has none of these things, if you strive for excellence. Writing is hard work and, above all else, experimentation, and if something is not getting your point across you have no choice but to scrub it and try again. That is the only way anyone ever gets good at anything: by working and trying again.
There’s this saying that insanity means doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It’s grossly oversimplified, and inaccurate, at least if you take “same thing” at face value. Any ballet dancer can tell you they kept leaping and twirling and going on point, over and over again hoping to better their strength and muscle memory. Any basketball player can tell you of the hours they spend standing in the same place, shooting the ball at the hoop, trying to perfect their swish. And as it is with writing – except trying over and over again with words means throwing out those first attempts. Writing a sentence, then deleting it. Then writing a slightly different one. And probably deleting that one too.
Each sentence is teaching you how to get your point across. Each sentence is teaching you how to manipulate words so they can leap and twirl across someone’s page to swish into someone’s mind.
I can’t be afraid to delete what I have if it means I can write something better. But even more important than this is the emotional attachment I had with those old words. I can’t be afraid to cut what I loved, if it makes the manuscript stronger.
And I think I’m finally getting to my main point – we write with passion because writing in any other way produces shit. So how do we reconcile the pieces of our soul we have put onto the page, if the page no longer fits with the flow of the novel? How can we be okay with that piece never seeing public eye?
Well, I’d like to think that we can learn from the way emotions were captured, or from the way something was described, and use that knowledge in a later scene. Even if it’s in another manuscript altogether.
Nothing is ever wasted but (digital) paper. Your time is not wasted. Your words are not wasted. Every sentence gets you one step closer to being a better writer. Every sentence teaches you how to share your soul.
Don’t be afraid.
Yes, I’m saying this to myself as much as I’m saying this to you all. How do you tell yourself to keep going?
Thanks for reading.