I have this bad habit, as a writer. I erase. All the time. I’ve written about this, actually, and bragged about it too. My approach to revision: Select All; Delete. I have done this. Many times.
And I’ll use evocative language to describe it – something about standing at precipices, or burning the fields to make them bear, or pulling up the boundary fences and standing in the center of wild, limitless space. I’ll say something about the dust of supernovae giving rise to brand new galaxies and that nothing is ever really lost.
And I stand by it, mostly. But I’ve never actually told the whole story. Because sometimes, my crushing need to rid myself of chaff and weak sentences and imperfect paragraphs prevents my stories from moving forward. I write; I go back; I fuss; I erase; I re-write; I fuss; I erase; I re-write; I fuss; I erase. And the book gets stuck. And I become much more unpleasant to live with (my family denies that last bit, but I think they are just being nice).
Erasing can be empowering, but it can be a trap, too. I have been trapped. Ask anyone you like.
So this next book is erasure-free. I am trying it out as an experiment. I am not allowed to erase anything until I type “The End”. I am walking on a long, straight road, and I am not looking back – not for a second. Each day I write. Each day I bring the story a little further along. Each day I take notes on my little novel-progress notebook. What I noticed that writing day. What questions I have for my characters. Ideas to work in later. Things that I know I’ll have to fix, but I’m not going to right now.
And there is something to it, actually. This forward motion. I have absolutely no idea if the book sucks. I have absolutely no idea if my sentences are working. I have absolutely no idea if the texture of the language works rhythmically – if it feels good in the mouth and ear (this is something I put a lot of time into, actually. My books are read out loud somewhere on the order of a hundred times before I turn that sucker in.) Of course, this is not to say that I won’t erase later, or that I won’t spend hours and hours on a single sentence. What it does change, though, is this stage of the game. This process of invention and discovery. And I have to say, I’m having a pretty good time.
No. I’m having a great time.
I had a pretty good idea about the shape of this story before I began, but even now, thirty thousand words in, I’m encountering all kinds of things that have surprised me. For example:
1. There is a convent of nun-assassins who are both crafty and terrifying. Their needlework is as menacing as their swordplay.
2. There is a stone that looks like a stone but is actually a door.
3. The verses of ancient poetry are carved into the living trunks of ancient trees, spiraling around and around from the ground to the upper branches.
4. Sometimes, carpentry is a better career choice. Not everyone is cut out to be a despot, after all.
5. Paper birds can be used as weapons.
6. Magic, like puberty, can hit a person like a runaway garbage truck, and can be just as confusing, disorienting and undignified.
7. Sometimes we lie to the people we love. It doesn’t mean we don’t love them. But it can make them not love us.
8. Gout is the most unpleasant of maladies.
9. Confounding architecture is ridiculously fun to write about.
10. Dragons are the biggest scaredy-cats in the whole wide world.
As I said: It might be terrible. It likely is terrible. And maybe I can un-terrible it later, and maybe I cannot. But this freedom I feel right now – freedom from worry, freedom from fussing, freedom from beating myself up for not being perfect, freedom from casting a pale eye on the work I had done thereby slowing the work that I will do – well. It feels pretty great. And while clearing the decks on a manuscript and starting over sometimes feels wild and free and unencumbered, there is something to the forward motion as well.
There is no looking back. There is nothing behind me. There’s only my feet and my breath and my swinging arms. There is only my eyes on the mountain ahead. And clear, blue sky.