Sometimes I complain about how I’m writing a novel and sometimes I just write it. Today I realized something really important: the simpler I make my novel, the easier it is for me to come back to. So I started cutting.
I so dearly, so naively keep the writing I cut in documents called “ThingsRemoved_Draft5,” “Extra_Things_Novel,” or even more tender, “Bits for Later.” Cutting does something incredible: it zeroes in on the core. And if the core is really the core, it’s usually pretty good.
So today I cut big things. Chapter One is now three pages, which I understand means nothing to you, but which you can tell is short. I’m back at it. Chapter One now sounds good. I read it out loud a few times, boastfully.
Coming back to my novel requires a necessary perusal through the folder I call “Jillian.” I worked on my novel straight for one year and this is the first time I’ve let it sit (and is it ever sitting). Looking back at it now is like finding a cute card I made when I was little. I’m impressed because it feels like someone else did it.
These are some finds:
A strange file called “Character Introductions” where I’ve made a cast list like you might find on imdb. I actually specify “in order of introductions,” which I should change to “in order of appearance.” Then I find things like this, which I’m happy I made on rainy days where I felt like writing peripheral things:
“Peter’s hands were those of a musician. He used them to explain things, then hid them down next to his body, so they would stay, so they wouldn’t run away with the circus. Peter’s hands seemed to be the only adventurous part of his body; the rest seemed ready to give up: his receding hairline, his tall, slouched frame, the various fatiguing gestures he made in response to words or moments that exhausted him: hands on head, eyes closed, body sighs.”
One folder is called “extra material,” which ends up being three truly superfluous documents. One is called “bits I haven’t yet used” and contains one paragraph from my very first draft. It’s a horrible paragraph. Another document is called CHAPTER 0, which I can’t wait to open. It’s a phone call, as though I would start my whole novel with a phone call. The third line is “Okay Danny Tanner.” What? The third document is called “themes/philosophies.” I don’t find a gem, but I find this (formatted this exact way):
“-you have to find yourself in order to be creative you have to lose everything first you have to have some kind of discovery then everything comes together and you can be truly creative”
I delete the three documents, losing everything first in order to be truly creative.
I like the images I saved in the Jillian folder. This one is how I imagine (and hopefully get you to imagine) Jillian’s house:
And the poplar tree outside of Jillian’s study:
And then Cape Breton, where Part 2 of my book takes place:
I like this folder of stuff I’ve made up. I like that there is a document titled “GIANTToDoListforJillian” which contains a list that is only two pages long. I like that I attempted to call a document “Leitmotivs.” I like that I did this weird thing called “Green Add Ons” where I highlighted things in green on my third draft and then went back and wrote little descriptions to insert in those spots. For example,
Mea’s closet was like a bag of jellybeans.
Mea adopted things like children do: she read about something, or had some gossip told to her, and suddenly it might as well have happened to her for the level of factual detail and intimacy you’re going to get from the story. This caused problems when the story was yours, and Mea seemed to have usurped it.
Li and Gro moved like a windstorm.
This type of man wears his emotions on his manicured stubble, his gelled hair, his ironed dress shirts: I am available, his items say, and I am not very complicated.
I tried to prepare an answer for people asking me what I did: I do, I thought I’d tell them, a lot. I do so much. I do things on weekdays and weekends. I do them a lot. I just do it.
I like looking into these weird little folders I made and realizing that they’re a part of my novel writing process but they’re not necessarily apart of my novel. I like knowing that I can cut my novel down to a new novel and still these folders and documents exist to prove I’ve been working at a process. Now these documents might not exist forever – I do have a 2007 MacBook – but I will soon buy an external hard drive and I will soon finish my novel. Then I’ll get to look back at these, shamelessly, thinking that it was super cute when I was scribbling nonsense but I’m so glad that I worked at it and really learned how to write.