Writer hell. A long, frustratingly muzzy-headed day in the office. And a brain too overloaded to know when to quit. I hit the chapter. I had to.

And I figured out some problems. Maybe.

The chapter is our introduction to one main character and to a principal one. It sets the stage for an essentially urban work. It poses a philosophical argument.

This last it did in waaaaaayyyy too much detail.

I had so many great quotes that pumped the book’s external theme that I wanted to eat them all in the same scene. Big mistake to be so in love with a set of ideas that you can’t find the page underneath them. A first-rate meal is not measured by its quantity.

Enter Ming the Merciless Editor. Cut. Cut. And cut.

I do not for one moment subscribe to the cavalier editorial advice to cut by half then cut again. This is a lazy, limping platitude for those with no sense of pace or form, as useless as the Emperor’s “too many notes” criticism of Mozart in Amadeus. That said, editing does have its uses as an identifier of problems.

And luckily, I have a tool that serves me well in times of unconfident fumbling: the grey tool.

Think you don’t like something? Think you might? Not sure? Make it grey…the lighter the shade, the less committed you are to the idea. In that way, you can save what you’re unsure of—your eye will read past it—but it will still be there in its original context until you decide for sure whether it belongs there or anywhere. A literary “have your cake and eat it, too” system.

The tool was hunting at full cry last night. Words, sentences, entire paragraphs got greyed-out with merciless abandon. Next, the writer re-read around the grey and pillaged her way through the pages. Even managed to find a passage or two that wanted back in…and for that, thank you, grey.

Is the chapter better now? Yes. Is it right; does it sing? Time will tell. Perspective is the other grey gift, and time is the thing that gives it. Time heals the mistakes of tired writers. Time puts the tear of repentance into Ming the Merciless Editor’s eye. Time lets brain-drained writers hate themselves a little less; lets us live to fight another day.

 

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