Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I've killed my darlings

I just spent the day completely revising the first 195 pages of The Devil You Don't Know.

I know. I'm exhausted. Fried.

As most of you know, I finally broke down and asked for help the other day. Guess what? I got it! Yay.

The lovely and very talented Anne Gallagher, Piedmont Writer to those of you here on the Internets, emailed me and offered to read my first 50 pages and tell me if they worked for her. I sent it off last night without a moment's hesitation because, really, what do I have to lose?

Thirteen hours later, she emailed me back an amazing critique of the pages, telling me things that I had long known in my own heart. The book starts with too much back story; the plot needs to be moved up. Keep in only those parts that move the plot forward and take the rest out. Do it, she said, and let me know if you think it works better.

It does. It really does.

As many of you know, the book is also too damned long -- clocking in at 123k. Yikes. So that had to be fixed, too.

So I rolled up my sleeves and went to work this morning, cutting and pasting and hacking it like I'm that serial killer in the film Seven. I pulled out chapters two through three and pasted them into a separate file. Then I moved Chapter four up to become Chapter two and rewrote accordingly. Then I slowly added in only those things that move the plot forward. Nothing else.

Sadly, I lost much of Gary K., the biker AA sponsor (although he shows up later, just without much of his previous flair). But by mid-afternoon, I knew I was onto something good. Really good.

The story started to flow like the new manuscript has been flowing. I hewed close to the plot's bones and killed all those darlings that stood in the way. I've heard it mentioned that many first-time novelists commit writer masturbation while writing their rookie novel. In other words, they write to please themselves, not the reader.

Anne pointed out (not in so many words) that I need to make love to the novel, instead -- I need to do it for others and not for my own selfish pleasure.

Whew. I'm blushing here. Sorry for the saucy talk! Let me go take a cold shower and .... Okay. I'm back.

Anyhoo ... Anne was right. Stunningly right. Nine hours after starting, I had revised up to page 194. I stopped because, well, because I'm worn out. I just sent her the new beginning. I can't wait to see what she has to say. And if it still doesn't work, I'll go back at it in the morning. I've decided the goddamned thing has taken up way too much of my life not to give it every chance to be published.

Oh, and the length? Well, now it's down to 114k and counting. Yay! That means that in one day, I not only made the book better, but I made it shorter by almost 10,000 words. Not bad for a day's work, I'd say.

I'll let you know how things turn out. But I am committed to getting TDYDK published.

Thanks Anne. And thanks to everyone who has lent a hand over the past few weeks. I will never be afraid to ask for help again.

You guys are the best. :)


  1. Yay, Terry! Look at you go. I'm glad you aren't giving up on it ... and need I say, actually sound a little excited about it again. :D

    I like to think of our manuscripts as little bonsai trees. At first cutting into them feels painful to us, but once you get started it can be addictive to shape it into something much prettier.

  2. You are muchly welcome you saucy boy. And yes, I love what you've done as you'll read in my e-mail. Congratulations to you! 200 pages in one day + 10k = FABULOUS!

  3. Wow! Good for you! The hardest step is what you've just done by admitting that you needed to cut and doing it. I'm looking forward to reading this book when it's in print. ;)

  4. I'm really glad you're focusing on The Devil You Don't Know again. I've had a great gut feeling about the book ever since I started reading your blog and I'm glad you're hell-bent to see it published. Keep moving forward with it!

  5. I'm doing the same with my completed MS: continuing to query it, even with dozens of rejections and no responses, but having a great time with my new work and more hopeful of its success. If it succeeds, then my first is getting submitted to whatever agent wants my second. I hacked mine down from 127,000 to 115,000 in one week and it does read a lot easier now, though I still fear it's too long and agents are skipping past it because of length. My new one's going to be a lot shorter.

    Hang in there. I have every confidence you are going to make it, Terry.

  6. Awesome, you got over a hurdle that I couldn't. And I think your excitement means you're onto something good.

  7. Oh my gosh, that's so great. It sounds like you have some new found energy for this. I guess you just needed a chance to recharge, step away and write some things you enjoyed. Good to hear it, keep the updates coming.

  8. I <3 Anne :) Congrats on your choppage and your renewed excitement!

  9. Knowing that it needed pruning and finding someone to help you do it puts you ahead of the game. Far too many writers go into a trench behind their extra words and refuse to see that they're not doing them any favors.

    You'll get an agent, and the agent will get it a publisher. Keep us updated so we can celebrate with you.


  10. I think I've read through all of you revision pages, and it's honestly uplifting. I've just started my revisions, and it's scary. Crazy scary, but seeing your journey in this blog is pretty great. Thanks for posting, I'm sure I'll be back