Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fixing the Blank Page

by Rebecca Cantrell

First off, happy New Year!

In the tail end of 2011 I had a writing exercise included in the writing book Now Write: Mysteries: Suspense, Crime, Thriller, and Other Mystery Fiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers (no, I don’t know how I snuck in).

I’m quite happy with the exercise I submitted, entitled rather prosaically “Murder from the Point of View of the Murderer, Victim, and Detective,” but the exercise I wanted to write was about letting go in your work, about giving yourself permission to throw words away.

Don’t get me wrong. I love some of my sentences just as much as the next writer. I’ve let go giant subplots that I still mourn (remember Hannah’s brother, Ernst? He used to talk from beyond the grave and those were great scenes).

I think throwing words away is a hard lesson for most writers to learn, and it was for me. It’s easy to get caught up in your perfect words. Revisions were hard for me until a friend told me that when she revised her novel it felt like “losing a child.” That shocked me out of my own over-attachment to any word in my story.

Because writing is about using words to transport people into your world. If the words are wrong and the world isn’t clear, the words have to change. Period. It’s just part of the process, like hitting the Shift key at the beginning of a sentence. And it doesn’t have to hurt.

This year I’m giving us all permission to write and revise joyfully. Sometimes the act of putting down words on paper knowing that they can change, they will change, they are not set in stone, is the only thing that gives me the courage to put down words on paper at all. Like Nora Roberts said, “You can fix anything but a blank page.”

Fill those blank pages up with words, then have fun fixing them!


Rebecca Bradley said...

I find the blank page the hardest but love revising and editing. I love watching the skeleton of the story form flesh and grow and then see it materialise as the story I actually wanted to tell.

Meredith Cole said...

Great advice, Becky! It's hard to cut huge amounts of work without thinking of the hours you slaved over the words. I once tossed out about 2/3 of a book that didn't work and wrote it again (and my students looked horrified when I told them that story!). It wasn't fun, but it had to be done.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Rebecca, Thanks for stopping by!

Isn't that the most amazing thing? I think it's why I'm addicted to writing.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Meredith, *gulp* that's a lot to throw away, and maybe that's what separates the amateur from the professional: knowing to make that call and follow through. I'm impressed by your guts!

Joshua Corin said...

Meredith, I did the same thing a year ago. It felt very much like removing a limb - but also being aware that the limb was gangrenous and needed removing and that it really wasn't a limb, per se, so I needed to chill and, frankly, ease up on the limb metaphors.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Josh, I am now officially grossed out.

Well done. And, I guess, congratulations on your phantom gangrenous non-limb amputation?

Reece said...

Words of wisdom, Becky. I think it's a little like assembling an Ikea table. I always have a few parts left over when I'm done (deleted chapters and characters, usually). But if the thing stands up without them, then I probably didn't need them, anyway. At least I hope not.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Nice analogy, Reece! My husband puts together the IKEA stuff and he claims to never have extra pieces. I now wonder if he eats them. But at least the furniture isn't falling down.

Gabi said...

If you say I can, I'm gonna. I don't think they could get a better teacher.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

You can, Gabi!

I once sent a first draft of something to a person in my writing group when she was stuck. She responded, "As soon as I read that, I could write again. I had no idea that your first drafts were so bad. I felt so much better."

Not diplomatic, but true. And I was proud to do it. :)

Write crap. Fix it. You can do it, Miss Gabi, if anyone can!