Friday, June 11, 2010

Remember: You're in charge.

The characters in my latest work in progress are behaving badly. They started out just fine: two tough as nails cops, one from homicide, one from robbery. They loved each other but it turned to hate, and now the death of her partner means they had to work together. They fight a lot, snipping at each other over crime scenes, each feeling a romantic and sexual tension but refusing to acknowledge it. But some how they were holding hands, and she was crying, then he was remembering how it used to be and suddenly, after work, they went to the zoo.

The zoo?

Yes, that’s right, my two tough characters ended up eating ice cream cones and laughing at the elephants. I sat down to read what I’d written the day before and realized things had spiraled desperately out of control. Thankfully, as a writer we're in charge. We can always hit the most important key on the keyboard: delete. I deleted line after line: no more zoo, crying, or holding hands. No more mushy stuff, I edited it back to tough cops and heady tension. That tension will be resolved but not with my characters turning into two zoo going softies. That’s not who they are.

The same thing happened in my own life recently. An opportunity came up that I’d long hoped for. I’d daydreamed about how it would be and here it was, all coming true. Except… Not exactly how I wanted it, more than a few significant details were wrong. Yesterday’s daydream was about to become tomorrow’s nightmare. Unfortunately, there was nothing to do but to delete the opportunity from my life.

In your life, as in your writing, it’s important to remember you’re in charge. You’re the one with the pencil, and more importantly, the one with the eraser. You can ask for an opportunity, but then decide it isn’t for you. You can order the chocolate cake but then throw it away. You can write whole chapters and then decide they don’t work.

It’s hard deleting, tough to remove big chunks that represent hours, especially when they still hold a perfect gem of a phrase or the shining glimmer of possibility. Hard, but not impossible, and it's so important; good writing requires good editing. Healthy living needs it too, you can’t be everyone’s friend, take every job, or do everything all at once. So when you’re adding in a healthy diet or healthy exercise, remember to edit out the things that don’t work. Even if you wanted them once, if you thought they were everything you needed, sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is delete.


Michelle Butler on June 11, 2010 at 9:35 AM said...

Thanks! This was a very helpful reminder this morning. :)

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on June 11, 2010 at 11:37 AM said...

I agree. Sometimes it helps to hear the things we already know but need to be reminded of.

Interestingly enough, it's so much harder for me to hit the delete key on my writing than it is in other aspects of my life.

Michelle Butler on June 11, 2010 at 11:46 AM said...

Interesting, Trish. One of the things that can make it hard for me to hit the delete button on my writing is that it reduces my page count - and then I know I have to do so much more to get to the correct page count. Stupid, but true. Sometimes I keep the crappy scene and the new, better scene (that will replace the crappy scene) in the same document to preserve the big page count - and then delete it later when it doesn't feel as traumatic. It makes the draft even more of a mess, but these silly mind games can sometimes help me keep moving forward.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on June 11, 2010 at 12:08 PM said...

That's a good way to do it, Michelle. I know this isn't a valid argument, but it always feel to me that if I delete big chunks that I've "wasted" the time I used to write those chunks in the first place.

Rachel Kleinsorge on June 11, 2010 at 12:25 PM said...

I suffer from the same problem, I've found that I can't check my word count. Ever. If I do I start to freak out that the story won't ever be long enough or that I should keep the bad parts in just to keep the number up. But in the end I know good writing needs good editing... even if it is painful.

Michelle Butler on June 11, 2010 at 12:42 PM said...

I hear you both. There are so many ways I can find to make myself crazy with my writing efforts. I'm not sure why I think I can find out a way to be efficient in a creative endeavor. It's probably in the same category as thinking there is some perfect author out there who has it all figured out and does it ten times better (and faster) than me. I know I just need to compare myself to myself - so to speak - but I am competitive - in writing, fitness/weight loss, everywhere. :)

Here's a quote along those lines:
Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself."
--William Faulkner,
American author

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on June 11, 2010 at 12:56 PM said...

Great quote, Michelle.

That ability we have to make ourselves crazy about writing, and sometimes get depressed about it (which leads sometimes to bad eating habits) shows how connected our writing and healthy living sides are to each other. They feed off each other.

Sally Kilpatrick on June 11, 2010 at 1:51 PM said...

Here, here! I believe in the power of the delete key. And I am so glad that I'm not the only one who looks up to see that my characters have veered off to who knows where--most recently a baseball game. It's a lovely scene, but it's not their scene; it belongs to someone else.

Now if only I could learn to hit the delete key in life and delete all of those obligations I either create for myself or accidentally fall into.

Keri Mikulski on June 11, 2010 at 5:51 PM said...

So true! :) I agree Sally - I need a delete key for my life.

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