Permission to burn it down
Good fiction shouldn’t be safe, and revision shouldn’t be easy. The goal isn’t to avoid complications, but to welcome them.
Last weekend I decided to clean out my closet with a zest I can only describe as ruthless.
Haven’t worn this dress in a year? Out.
No strong feelings about these pants? Out.
Perfectly fine shirt but the sleeves are a centimeter too long? Out.
By Sunday evening, my wardrobe was at least a third smaller, and consisted only of items I regularly wear and genuinely like. When I got dressed the next morning (AKA slipped into slightly nicer sweatpants for another WFH day) I didn't feel like a new person, per se. Instead, I felt like my closet had finally caught up to the person I'd become.
I've always been a bit zealous about getting rid of things, but this feels different. Part of it is because I'm finally revising the first draft of my new book, a process which is bleeding into other areas of my life. I’m still using The Last Draft as a guide, and it has revolutionized my approach to revision. In the past, I was too precious about each passage, and while I made big changes here and there, a lot of my “revision” was just editing - improving sentences rather than overhauling structure. No wonder I’ve yet to sell a novel!
This time, I am ruthlessly dissecting the book and examining it piece by piece. Whether it's pulling apart a scene and identifying how it moves the plot forward, or interrogating the role of a minor character, or fleshing out setting so it informs the action, I'm uncovering new ideas, finding patterns, refining my vision, and - most importantly - cutting what doesn't serve the story.
When it comes to writing, I tend to take the easy way out, writing around the things I don't understand, or leaning too heavily on white space and asking the reader to fill in the blanks. But this process is helping me remember that me that good fiction shouldn’t be safe, and revision shouldn’t be easy. The goal isn’t to avoid complications, but to welcome them. To let them challenge and change me, as a writer and as a person.
Which makes me reconsider these last six months, and all the challenges and changes they've wrought. In the beginning of the pandemic, I tried to preserve my routines, my habits, my schedule. Eventually, those things that once brought me comfort began to feel silly. This was a different world with different rules. Why was I trying so hard to live by the old ones?
Revision is an opportunity to make new rules. To get rid of old clothes and rearrange my home office. To clean up my digital life and pause my membership at the YMCA. To delete 10,000 words and rewrite an entire subplot.
When the world changes, it's okay to change with it. To focus less on what you've lost, and more on what you might gain. 💛
Snack of the Week
Despite the fact that it's 2020, I've drastically cut down on my drinking, a process that is teaching me a lot about my relationship to alcohol and the world in general. That said, I still enjoy a fancy seasonal beer, and this one from Trader Joe's was a treat. Lots of coffee and peanut butter notes, which sound like a lot because it is! For the best experience, sip slowly and split it with someone. (I generously shared with my husband.)
You Could Make This Place Beautiful, Slate. I really enjoyed this profile of the poet who wrote "Good Bones," which went viral in 2016 and still makes me cry every time I read it. Great examination of art, grief, hope, and the double-edged sword of universal appeal. 🏚
Why You Should Always Read the Acknowledgements in Books, Penguin. Speaking of crying, I love reading the acknowledgements and often get choked up at particularly poignant ones. Others feel like a blatant excuse to name-drop or are obnoxiously self-important, and I roll my eyes. Basically, if you skip this part of a book, you are absolutely missing out! 📚
Why Americans Have Turned to Nesting, The Atlantic. Sharing this purely because I like trend pieces to which I 100% relate. Consider my freshly de-cluttered closets a casualty of pandemic-era nesting. 🔨
In newsletter land, I've been enjoying CRAFT TALK, a weekly missive about writing and publishing by Jami Attenberg. It's sort of what this newsletter is trying to do, except written by a prolific and extremely talented writer. Highly recommended! 💌
I quit Twitter, at least for a little while. I haven’t logged into my account since I sent my last newsletter - yet another example of how I am ruthlessly editing my life!!! - and guess what? I don’t miss it. This is a long winded way of saying I do not have a literary tweet to share this week, and I don’t know when I will again. I'm currently accepting recommendations for what should go in this spot instead. Let me know!
A Tiny Challenge
What are you holding on to, and why? This week, let something go - the bigger, the better. Maybe you'll regret it, but I bet you won't. 🌻
Thanks to Blair Richwood for the encouragement & donation last week!
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