Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fighting Obesity One Word At a Time

Move over, Biggest Losers! I just cut 5,500 words from my novel. That only leaves 50,000 words, meaning I just cut 10 per cent of those precious babies I labored with and gave birth to over the past ten months (long pregnancy, huh?). Ouch! But I'm trying to look at this in a healthy way, like how I would feel if I lost 10 per cent of my body fat, which is essentially what happened to the book. So... if I weighed 150 pounds (this is hypothetical) and lost 10 per cent, I'd only weigh 135 pounds. With obesity running rampant in the South, this would be a good thing, right?

One big difference here is that I loved those 5500 words that I just cut, and I do not love my extra fat cells at all. Some of those words were beautiful, literary, tear-jerking, inspirational, (you get the picture) ... but guess what? They didn't belong to this novel. Some of them may show up in another book one day, but not here. Not this time.

So, how did I get the courage for this fat-removing operation? From my fellow writers, of course. Those who have gone before and have published wonderful, slim, fit, non-obese books, and even lived to tell about it.

Like Anne Lamott, who tells stories of similar surgeries her books have survived in her national bestseller, bird by bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Now, I had read about 10 books by writers on writing (see list at end of this post)but until the Mississippi Writers Guild Conference a few weeks ago, I hadn't heard of this one. Oh, my gosh ... anyone reading this blog should click on Amazon.com and order this book immediately! Even after she was a published author, she once spent three years operating on a book until she got it right. Just yesterday I read her description of taking her book and spreading it out on the floor, sections and chapters and paragraphs lined up everywhere. Then she walked around cutting and pasting (literally) and jotting down notes for re-working sections later until she had gotten rid of the fat and put the rest back in working order. Then she picked up the piles of paper and took them back to her computer for re-entering. When I read this I almost cried. It was so close to what I had just done to The Sweet Carolines over the past few weeks.

And unlike the process of liposuction where one would not want to save the sucked out blobs of fat to use later, I did save many of these words and images and quotes and carefully researched information in a file to pull from should there ever be a home for them in a future book or short story or essay. Well, not all of them. Some of them really were cellulitic. sigh.

So now I'm having a copy of the new, skinnier manuscript printed off for my next "early reader," into whose hands it will arrive this weekend. She'll be happy to have a healthier product, I'm sure. My first "early readers" had to wade through the fat. Sorry 'bout that, folks.

And now I'll close with that list I mentioned earlier, my favorite books on writing by writers. I'm doing this pretty much from memory, so if I forget anyone and think of them later, I'll try to remember to add them in. And if any of you guys reading this have names to add to this list, please leave me a comment! So, here they are, my "how to write" top 10, but not in any order:

bird by bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg
Walking on Water by Madeleine L'Engle
The Writing of Fiction by Edith Wharton
Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster
If You Want to Write by Brenda Euland
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
On Writing by Stephen King
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
Letters of Flannery O'Connor: The Habit of Being edited by Sally Fitzgerald

3 comments:

John Hendel said...

Sounds like you're doing great work there, Susan. I know editing can be a little more tiring process at times, but it sounds like you're making some fast and effective progress.

I like that you included Stephen King's volume On Writing in your list. That slim volume's always given me a surprising amount of inspiration and advice that's, quite simply, just solid and sound.

~John Hendel, The Missouri Review
http://www.missourireview.com/tmr-blog/

Keetha said...

Oh, I am so glad you liked Bird by Bird! It's one of my favorites. I take it out and re-read it about once a year.

Another fabulous book about writing is "The Lie that Tells a Truth" by John Dufrense. It's in my top three, the other two being Bird by Bird and On Writing.

Meribeth said...

I actually think I have 'bird by bird' on my shelf...I'm off to go see if I can find it. Love the blog & will continue to check it out when I get a chance.