When stuff doesn’t work—as, sooner or later, something inevitably won’t—the writer is faced with a conundrum. What do you do with the part that fails?

Some writers throw the not-successful passages out wholesale and start over from the blank page. They throw out baby and bathwater together.

I’m not one of those folks. I am not a thrower-awayer. Neither am I a hoarder.

Starting each chapter as I do with the bits gathered from among nearly 400 pages of notes, I take an approach that may be a little conservative. The original thoughts being the expression of the story’s intention, I prefer to stay true to the material as conceived.

Paragraph by paragraph, I don’t force the puzzle; I merely re-configure the pieces I already have, re-cutting and rearranging them until a clearer picture emerges; until they reveal that clean line to the story’s rhythm, meaning and momentum. Sometimes, I’ll chip away at what isn’t working until I get down to the bedrock of what will.

Sometimes it’s not the idea that needs fixing, or even the words that convey it; often, it’s nothing more than the style, the inner voice of the character, that’s coming up short. When that’s the case, simply rewriting the chapter in a way that’s more true to the character’s voice delivers the answer I’ve been searching for.

To go back to the baby/bathwater imagery (and getting, admittedly, a little bizarre as I do), instead of tossing the baby out with the bathwater, I’ll simply unstick the arm that’s been growing out of the kid’s forehead, and reattach it where it belongs. Or perhaps not try so hard to make those six toes fit into the sock. Or just make myself acknowledge  that the third eye at the back of my offspring’s head maybe isn’t as useful as it first seemed.

Sometimes, I suspect, my way of fixing things takes longer than trashing an unworkable passage might require. But this is my baby we’re talking about. And bathwater…that’s not so easy to come by.

Advertisements