One of the humps I have had to get over as I become a better fiction writer is the idea that I must keep an iron grip on any words I have committed to paper – that once I hit a certain word count I can’t let any of it go because … word count.
After I got the first round of feedback on my novel I had to face facts – there were some parts of it that were compelling only to me and to people who really like me a lot. Those parts were not compelling to people who might pay money for my book, or pay me to publish it, or help me find a publisher. So, I had to scrap those parts, or, at the very least, trim them down quite a bit. At first I panicked – what if I can’t get the word count back up? What if I wind up with a hollow shell of a book and can’t produce anything else ever again?
As long as I held on to these beliefs they kept me locked into a manuscript that wasn’t going anywhere. I was too attached to passages that weren’t working and until I removed the bad parts, the good parts had no room to blossom.
After my spring writing retreat I had a realization. I was able to produce my 2,500 word retreat sample in about an hour – I can produce more word count, and often, I can produce it quite efficiently.
In so many ways, success in life depends on being able to go against the initial inclination – turning into the skid when all you want to do is turn away from it, embracing change when your heels have set so solidly against it, scrapping those hard-won pages to make room for fresh new pages to grow.
Look, if you’re working on a manuscript you have already produced a significant number of words, which means you have it in you to keep doing the same. It’s like the adage about running – once you know that you can run a mile, you realize you can run 5, 10, 26 miles. Once you ride a bike 10 miles, you know you can ride it for 100 or more.
To expand the metaphor, those first miles are, in fact, easier. It’s not the first miles that give you blisters, shin splints, saddle sores and aching wrists. It’s not the first 10,000 words that incite despair that the task will never be done; that make the whiteness of all those blank pages stretching out ahead of you seem as if the color white was created especially for the torture of you. Nevertheless, if you wrote those first 10,000, you can write another 10,000, and another and another, as many times as you need to, until your story is told.