It used to be I couldn’t take a shower without someone banging on the bathroom door. Even getting out of our shower was complicated–I had to knock on the acrylic glass door to give the snoozing short fat black dog a heads-up before pushing it open.
My kids are grown. My dog can’t climb the stairs anymore. I can have lots of long, hot showers now.
And you know what? Most writers really love their showers. That’s where the plots become untangled. That’s where the dialogue gets stirred. In between rinses, we think.
I needed to do that today. I didn’t look at myself as I got undressed. Didn’t allow my thoughts to move to the edits or to my personal problems as I turned the taps. The acrylic door made a click as I sealed it.
I stood under the deluge.
I’d thought I’d handed in a book that was strong.
I was wrong.
What I handed in was something akin to a jar of lightening bugs–individual flickers of flame. A jar of bugs is interesting but a solid beam of light that brings the reader from one point to another is far more so. That’s what I should have submitted March 30th. I should have crafted something so clear, so inherently compelling that the reader couldn’t turn away. And I hadn’t.
I can see that now. What you don’t know is that it took at least 20, maybe 25 reads of the editorial letter before I could actually begin to absorb the seeds of those comments. For four fucking days, rage, and hurt, and resistance kept getting in the way. During that time, I ripped out 10K of words from the front half of the book. Doing so abraded my skin. Softened up my shields.
Around late Monday, early Tuesday I finally saw with my own eyes my novel’s essential flaw. Once I could identify that–all the parameters of it–I was ready to absorb the rest of my editor’s comments. I went through the letter again. Mostly nodding.
Today, I sat down to read the last 200 pages of the book.
I made it through 100 before I stood up.
I’d thought I’d moved through grief. But when I looked with the eye of an assassin at that thorny issue of the ‘great divide’, I felt my heart squeeze. I turned the pages, one after the other, and on each page of hard-won prose I carefully pressed a post-it. A verb printed in red ink on each one. Cut. Chop. Move. Eliminate. Expand. Change.
It’s not going to be as easy as suggested. There is no cutting it in two. That’s what I’d hoped for. A sharp knife, a steady hand, and then presto! 12,000 words on this side of the book, and 12,00 words on that.
Tearing would be required. Rending too. And I’d have to come up with new words. For action, for despair, for urgency and for bravado.
To do what needs to be done…oh, hell. To do that.
Then all the things that are part of my life–there’s life beyond writing, and sometimes its issues are far more compelling than any bubble world the writer creates–welled up. There are stakes there too. More important than any damn book.
So I took a shower. And once the water grew cold, I turned off the taps. And then I just leaned against the wall and cried.