That jewel of a manuscript, you know the one. That book that poured out of you several years ago to sit on disk or in yonder drawer to ripen and swell. Oh my gosh, it reads like mile upon mile of country road now and you are thinking of trashing it, because it embarrasses you.
Ever been there? I have.
I wrote a book back in 2004 titled Heller’s Canal, a historical Western set in the early 1870s in Littleton, Colorado, the town I lived in when I first moved to Denver some 30 years ago.
Well, I just pulled it out of mothballs the other day and am now happily polishing and honing it. Of course, it read like miles of country road, because I have never written any work to perfection right out of the chute. Oh, I have written a complete story, with the characters I wanted and the plot that motivated their actions. But brilliant-cut and blemish free, I think not.
Editing, to me, is the most satisfying part of preparing a project for public consumption. A great friend of mine, David Dvorkin, a published author of many genres, told me early on, “Gary, prepare to kill many darlings,” and, of course, he was right.
That lesson, a valuable one, took many years to sink into my big head. Essentially, he told me that first you write, then cut, shape, polish, to finally insert the magnificent jewel into a suitable mounting before it’s released to posterity.
For certain, “killing darlings”, was only the beginning — as the more I learned about editing, the more words, phrases, sparkling descriptions, overstated actions, etc., proved unnecessary. Cut with a vengeance. Harbor no sympathy. Slash and trash. No swooning allowed. And foremost, if an editorial necessity begs for its life, say whatever parting words necessary and annihilate it with good humor. The more it begs, the less it deserves to live.
Write, edit, and release and start the process again.