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The Back of an Envelope

I’m editing my work in progress and thought it might be interesting to see what somebody else has to say about the process. Here’s what Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree said.

“Anyone and everyone taking a writing class knows that the secret of good writing is to cut it back, pare it down, winnow, chop, hack, prune, and trim, remove every superfluous word, compress, compress, compress…
Actually, when you think about it, not many novels in the Spare tradition are terribly cheerful. Jokes you can usually pluck out whole, by the roots, so if you’re doing some heavy-duty prose-weeding, they’re the first to go. And there’s some stuff about the whole winnowing process I just don’t get. Why does it always stop when the work in question has been reduced to sixty or seventy thousand words–entirely coincidentally, I’m sure, the minimum length for a publishable novel? I’m sure you could get it down to twenty or thirty if you tried hard enough. In fact, why stop at twenty or thirty? Why write at all? Why not just jot the plot and a couple of themes down on the back of an envelope and leave it at that? The truth is, there’s nothing very utilitarian about fiction or its creation, and I suspect that people are desperate to make it sound manly, back-breaking labour because it’s such a wussy thing to do in the first place. The obsession with austerity is an attempt to compensate, to make writing resemble a real job, like farming, or logging. (It’s also why people who work in advertising put in twenty-hour days.) Go on, young writers–treat yourself to a joke, or an adverb! Spoil yourself! Readers won’t mind!”

Interesting thoughts from Hornby says he who has just edited the following paragraphs relating to ‘Blue Star’ or ‘Blue’ as she is known by her friends in the Wiccan world. You might find her in “Under An Ancient Name” after I have edited it down to the back of an envelope.

Blue Star made her way to Simon giving the unnecessary excuse that she had made herself available to him as his Wicca mentor. Taking her seat, she smoothed out her ‘crinkle look’ skirt. Made eye contact with Simon for an instant, modestly lowered her eyes then raised them, showing a hint of mischief.

‘Shall we begin by stating our own positions on the points the speaker has raised?’ Without waiting, although Ben and Simon managed nods of the head, Blue outlined her beliefs.

‘I am a Wiccan priestess and Wicca is the only religion I follow. Nature guides, I follow the seasons like the natural clockwork they are. I believe in a single power, a supreme energy force that does not rule over the universe because, it is the universe. It looks after nature; it is nature and a mass of simultaneous Divine energy.’

‘I’ve been through this so many times, I often question my own thoughts, I guess that’s healthy but hey, who knows? Sorry, I talk lots when I’m nervous. No idea why I’m nervous either, it’s not usual.’

Oh dear, where will I put the rest of the story? E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly to the rescue.

“Editors can be stupid at times. They just ignore that author’s intention. I always try to read unabridged editions, so much is lost with cut versions of classic literature, even movies don’t make sense when they are edited too much. I love the longueurs of a book even if they seem pointless because you can get a peek into the author’s mind, a glimpse of their creative soul. I mean, how would people like it if editors came along and said to an artist, ‘Whoops, you left just a tad too much space around that lily pad there, lets crop that a bit, shall we?’. Monet would be ripping his hair out.”

Your own thoughts are very welcome. I won’t try to edit . . . promise.

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