Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Writer Edits: Why We Must Cut

I recently decided to cut a narrator from my manuscript. That meant eliminating several chapters – in total, about 20,000 words.

One of my writer friends was worried. Won’t that take an awfully long time, he asked. Won’t it be painful?

As it turned out, it was neither, which has a lot to do with why we so often write more than we should in the first place. In a recent post titled “Editing Down to the Truth, ” Cinthia Ritchie, author of Dolls Behaving Badly, points out that although we write to be seen, there are parts of us that prefer to be hidden. “Maybe it's like therapy,” she says. “We talk on and on, we circle around meaning, fortify ourselves with pauses until we feel safe enough to see the truth.”

Cinthia’s post struck a chord with the writers who read it. “I woke up this morning with the realization that I need to cut at least half of the scene I wrote yesterday,” said Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child, wrote in a comment. “But sometimes I think the stuff I write and then cut is just as important in helping me tell the story, but in ways that maybe no one will ever know but me.”

We write our way toward the truth. It’s not an efficient process – not for me, anyhow. In the case of my novel, one of the characters demanded a voice. She had to speak so I’d understand her; if she hadn’t, I’d have judged her wrongly. But once she’d had her say, I knew her – well enough to let go of her voice.

Attachment for its own sake is deadly. To cut, we have to trust our readers – and ourselves. Those 20,000 words did their work, pointing me to the truth. They earned their retirement. Sure, there were some great scenes, some nicely turned phrases. But the book is lighter and freer and more true without them.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Seismic Shifts in Publishing

No one doubts that the publishing industry is making a seismic shift; the questions remaining have mostly to do with speculation over the final magnitude when it’s all said and done, and the playing out of the aftershocks. 

In the past year alone, five writers I know here in Alaska, all successfully and traditionally published, have told me they’re seriously exploring new ways to deliver their work to readers – and that’s only from the small sample of writers I know well. One is David Marusek, who kindly sent me three links to timely pieces about the changing state of publishing, with permission to share them here. 

“One of my models for ebook success,” Marusek writes, “is the sci-fi thriller writer Jeff Carlson…he sent me a link to a current update on one of his ebooks, a self-published novel fix-up of one of his popular novellas. You’ll note that he…takes a hybrid approach, self-pubbing mixed with traditional, including an upcoming book with Amazon’s 47North science fiction imprint.”

Marusek also sent me this link to a post by John Scalzi, about “one of the big six trying to offload its risk but stay in the driver’s seat.” Scalzi, says Marusek, “is a newish bestselling sci-fi writer and probably one of the last of the breed who has come up entirely via the traditional route.”

Finally, he shared a post by Kris Rusch, which proved one of the smartest pieces I've read lately on changes in the publishing industry: blunt, astute, to the point.
It would be lovely if as writers we could go about our craft with nary a thought to how our books would reach readers, but such a notion has gone the way of the petroglyph. Our best hope comes from authors like Marusek who are both forward-thinking and generous with information and ideas about the State of Publishing.

If you have links or thoughts to share on publishing – traditional, alternative, or hybrid – send them to debvanasse (at), subject line “Pub Corner.”

Read more from David Marusek on his blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Writer Takes a Vacation

It's the lipstick that has discolored the marble.

I returned this week from a family vacation. For ten days – ten days! – I wrote nothing more substantial than a text message. That’s a little distressing for someone like me who spends a good part of most days spinning stories.

For reading I brought only my Kindle and the latest issue of Poets and Writers, which features residencies, conferences, and book festivals – working vacations for people like me. I’ve attended precisely one conference where I wasn’t on faculty, and that was Squaw Valley Writers, an outfit I can’t recommend enough. A festival would be fun, but again the only ones I’ve attended were in-state, and I was part of the program.

I’ve been tempted by residencies - and Cinthia Ritchie’s recent blog post on residencies tempted me even more. But I’m fortunate to have easy access to two retreat-like settings where I can write – our home here on Hiland Mountain, and a cabin at Matanuska Glacier. Still, there’s something appealing about other artists quietly creating around you. Hedgebrook is on my list to apply for one day.

When he’s working on a novel, David Vann writes every day, vacation or no. There’s a lot to be said for momentum, but when I’m vacationing with family, they come first, hands down. I could get up early and write, but then my mind would divide itself for the rest of the day, and I’d rather be fully present with those I love much and see seldom. So I left the revision projects on my Kindle for airplane reading and before bed, I stuck to books I could study but not try to rewrite.

But to turn an old phrase, you can take the writer out of the story, but you can’t take the story out of the writer. We spent our last day strolling through Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park, final resting place of the stars, shoehorned between Los Angeles skyscrapers. I dare you to look on Marilyn Monroe’s grave without a narrative beginning to form itself, vacation or no. No matter. There’s little that separates work and play in the life of a writer.