Running From That

Vilhelm Hammershøi - Interior of Courtyard, Strandgade 1899As almost every writing site I’ve read laments, editing is an author’s bane. You spend one-third of your time writing and two-thirds editing. This morning I decided to review the use of the word “that” in my novel. Three hours later, the book is 350 words lighter. While some of the sentences are undoubtedly improved, I’m not certain all of them are clearer because I omitted one little word. See, I stopped myself from using it just then? Perhaps the value of the time I spent is now I am more aware. Not a better writer, just more aware.

Following these kinds of rules punches the character, life and original voice out of what we write. Edit out those contractions. Don’t use that. Pare your text down to its crystal essence. Add in sassy dialog and a plucky heroine and your novel will sell. Your goal is to give people what they want. Funny, speedy, don’t have to think too much, stories based on a familiar cast of characters.

What if you hate pluck? What if your characters don’t fight back? What if they can’t? What if you believe the pushy, grabbing sharks, the ones who constantly shove to the head of the line are what’s wrong with the world? What if you’re a sheep, writing about sheep living their sleepy sheep lives?

Well then, your stories won’t sell and eventually you will give up your dream of being a writer.

As you can tell, my doubts are back. I wonder if I need to re-write major sections of the novel. Should I change scenes in favor of richer dialog? I’m fighting this notion, because for much of the novel the problem between the characters lies in the fact they don’t talk. There’s lots of sex, not much talking. I can’t see how adding a bunch of, “Yes, oh yes! Don’t stop, don’t stop!” lines to the story is going to be an improvement. I do have dialog. I don’t tell the story through it.


I need — fear, want — people willing to read the story and give me an honest opinion. Aye, there’s the rub. The standard new writer advice often reads this way: If you have done your homework, you have already become a witty presence on several writers’ sites. You have read and reviewed the work of several aspiring authors in exchange for their potentially doing the same for you. Jesus H. Christ! What kind of advice is that?

In desperation, I pull the big blanket emblazoned with “believe in yourself” tightly around my shoulders.

This melancholy torments and scatters me. I will do anything rather than write the novel. I do things like write this essay, which has not gone in the direction I planned. I wanted to write a intimate little exploration about why “pornography for middle-aged women” is so popular. My own writings fall in that category. Oh no, I used that dreaded word. Fuck, I did it again!

Today’s music selection is It Keeps You Runnin’ (Album Version – 2006 Remastered) from Takin’ It To The Streets by The Doobie Brothers. Released: 1976. Track 16.

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