I finally finished the rewrite of my novella “Suiciders.” I gotta be square with you — this thing has been sitting on my shoulders and crapping down my back for a year and a half! Holy smokes!
Why’d it take so long? I’ll tell you why. Because I thought it was a difficult and complicated project. That’s why.
When I worked in court as a stenographer, we’d sometimes get orders for entire trials on appeal. We’re talking many times in the 2,000-page range. But we were given 90 days to get it done. 90 days. I always got my work done in four days.
Do you think it was because I was a rocking great reporter and jumped on transcripts the moment orders landed on my desk? Hah! Then you’re a fool!
Nope. I always got my transcripts done between Day 86 and Day 90. And yes, I have stayed overnight two nights in a row at work trying to make a deadline. What an idiot. And I’d swear time and again I wouldn’t do that to myself…only to find myself at my desk at 3:00 in the morning wondering what the hell that noise was coming from the hall.
Why did I do it? Simple. Because I absolutely hated doing transcripts. And the more I brooded on it, the more difficult and complicated it became. Ugh, that’s the trial with the Albanian DNA specialist who grew up in Australia and ran auctions in his spare time. I didn’t understand a word he said. And wasn’t that the trial with over 500 exhibits? God, the indexing alone….
So what happened with this story? I mean, I thought it was a fairly good story when I first wrote it. My most science-fictiony story to date, so for that, I was proud. I cleaned it up right nice and threw it out to a contest once. But I knew there was something wrong with it.
So I got some feedback. Great feedback. Feedback that made it clear I was going to have to perform some major surgery. Dang. It was clear I was going to have to change the whole structure of the story…which meant I needed a lot more new scenes. And it’s a long freaking story (17,000+ words). And then the baby came and I was distracted for a good while. When I came back to it, the darn thing had gotten rusty and stiff with age.
So deadlines are helpful. Eager to submit this piece to my writer’s group for this month’s meeting, I committed to finishing it. If I didn’t finish, I wouldn’t have time to work up another piece. It was either this one or empty hands at the meeting. It was time to do or die.
Not wanting to die on a 17,000-word hill, I hunkered down and forced myself in front of the darn thing. The way I did that was I told myself all I had to do is just reread the darn story, see what it feels like after all this time. Easy-peesy. Of course, I ended up making notes as I went along. Cool.
But I had a ton of edit notes…like 20 pages of edit notes. But reading is easy, right? Just read through it, get a feel for what was happening in my brain at that time. I can do that.
Then I decided I had too many notes to consider and needed to simplify things for myself. So I told myself all I had to do was print up my edit notes, then scissor and tape the necessary stuff onto the draft. (It sounds crazy, but it really helps me. I’ll post pictures sometime.) Cutting and sorting through edit notes and taping them into a draft? Easy. Got my jams playing, feeling the groove, cutting and taping, dealing with one paragraph at a time. Kind of relaxing actually.
When I was done, I had one draft copy with all the notes I was going to need taped in their appropriate spots, and a big pile of stuff I didn’t need that went straight to the trash. It always helps any project to clear away the junk.
What I had left was a very detailed blueprint of the story as it needed to be. So then all I had to do is go from beginning to end at that point and follow my own instructions. Look, I told myself, I know this is one big mammer-jammer, but the first 30 pages just need line edits. Just go through and fix those little edits. Easy.
After that, I hit a spot in the manuscript that read: “Insert death scene here.” Oh, man! This is where it gets complicated. I don’t know if I should focus on the modality of death, or simply — uh-bup! No, no. Just write the one scene. One scene! Surely, you can write one scene. If it comes out ugly, we’ll make it go away. I promise.
So step by baby step, I easy-talked myself into doing my work. And I find that I often have to talk myself into doing my work. I’m okay with that. As long as I’m doing my work.
This technique, by the way, works great with chores. Just wash one plate, see how you feel… So if you feel overwhelmed by what’s before you, just remember to talk it easy. 🙂