Monday, November 22, 2010


Sometimes you have to go backward to go forward.  That's writerly logic for you.  It doesn't seem like it should make sense, but it's true.

See, when you're writing, at some point in the process you might come to a point in your book where you go, "What the fudgecicle am I doing?"  You'll realize that you've gone so far off the map that they don't have a name for where you are.  It's an unsettling feeling.  And you have two choices.  Either you keep going and pray to whatever god you hold most holy to help you you out of the mess you've created, or you go back.

When I say, go back, I don't mean a couple of pages.  What I mean is that you have to slash and burn.  I reached a point like that in Deathday.  I'd written five chapters.  But by the end of CH 5 I realized I'd royally messed up the story.  In that chapter I had my three heroes sitting in the house of a suburban housewife who also happened to be a hooker.  Ronnie was negotiating for Ollie to get...serviced...while the boys sat in the living room discussing the furniture.  Mind you, in the first draft of this book the kids were all in 8th grade.  Now, leaving aside the fact that I was NEVER going to be able to have a scene in which my 13 y/o hero has sex with a 40-something soccer mom (I was trying to recall the scene from Biloxi Blues when Matthew Broderick loses his virginity to a sweet, Southern prostitute), I realized that I'd made a series of mistakes.  I tried to fix them but what I finally realized was that to fix them, I had to be free of them.

Now, I was still new to writing and finishing books.  Every word I write still feels like a victory over the blank page, so the idea of deleting those chapters felt like heresy.  But I knew that's what I had to do.  And I did it.  I deleted CH's 2-5 and started from scratch.  It was my first big lesson in the brutality of writing.  Since then I've become quite adept at deleting whole swaths of writing.  If I feel something isn't working, and I can't seem to make it work, I find that just deleting the whole section and writing it from scratch enables me to be free and to solve the problem in a unique way.

So next time you find yourself stuck in a hooker's house, don't try to fix it, just delete it.  Give yourself a fresh start and begin again.


  1. I remember clinging to each and every word like an obsessed barnacle, but these days I love it when I set entire chapters on fire. I cackle as I stare into the flames.

  2. I'll admit it, I could build a boat with all the words I've slashed. It's like I have an attention problem or something.

    Okay, on that note, my new middle grade novel has an outline. That's right. It's very controlled, yet I miss the element of surprise and adventure that free writing gives me. It's hard to know what is truly best.

    Oh, and C.N.-- love the image.

    Great post, thanks.

  3. "next time you're in a hooker's house"

    Best line ever! And it makes perfect sense--at least in your context. I wouldn't know where to find a hooker's house near me, if we were gonna be literal about it.

  4. C.N. - I'm right there with you. Except I still have problems letting go of favorite passages...the ones I know my editor and agent will make me cut anyway.

    Julie- I think whatever works best for you is best. I don't outline well but I've now taken to calling my first drafts outlines. It's kind of freeing. It lets me be exploratory but I can go back and use that zero draft as a really, ridiculously detailed outline.

    Vicki - :)


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