Can I, please?

I just got my manuscript draft back from my beta reader (all hail the beta reader!). As an aside: can I just say I think she took particular joy in pointing out all my typos, missing words, and grammatical errors. But here’s the bulk of what she said (paraphrased):

You know those chapters you hated? The ones that were embarrassing and difficult and hard to write? It turns out they don’t work, and not just because the writing isn’t as good. They don’t work because they don’t fit in to the possible trajectory. Of course you could change the trajectory to include these chapters.

Thank fucking god. I read the manuscript at  my favorite Israeli cafe, which is dim with orange walls and colorful Turkish lanterns. I wanted to turn to the waitress and say “Hey! My friend said I don’t have to include all the stuff in the memoir I hated!” But of course I didn’t. (A second aside: why do people put pickles on felafel? Pickled onions, sure, but pickles out of a jar? Ick. But as a third aside—but this is about food, so it’s important—my cousin once told me that they put French fries on felafel in Israel. I said, is it too late to come visit you?)

They say write what is difficult. They say write what you hate to write. I told my friend J that what I was writing was boring, and she said “Let me be the judge of that. It’s probably not going to be boring, even if you think it is.” I pushed myself toward all the icky personal stuff I didn’t want to write about.

And now I can delete it. Not all of it. And not really delete it. It’s going into the dead chapter file. But I can structure my next draft without it and see how it goes. I worry that I’m taking the easy way out. But maybe I just have to find something more difficult in the first two parts of the manuscript to obsess over. I want to be Alain de Botton not Kathryn Harrison.

Thank you my friends for letting me whine about writing rather than APA style.

When do you stop pushing through the crap?


17 responses to “Can I, please?

    • I ran (no, really, I RAN) up to Kathryn Harrison while she was on a stage getting ready for a panel at AWP and dragged her off to take a photo with me. I. Love. Her.

  1. I stop when I absolutly can’t feel the the story anymore—when the characters aren’t talking, I don’t have a single clue what happens next or even what happens at the end, and I don’t care.

    Forcing through that never works well; I have to wait it out.

    I’ve been waiting out some stories for years.

  2. I agree with Sarah, that forcing through (other than to get the zero draft down) never works, that I am always better off waiting it out. Unfortunately, I’ve been waiting my entire manuscript out for 2 months now. I’ve sporadically worked on a couple of chapters (thank god for my writing group and their deadlines!!) but other than that …. nada.

    I went back home the first of October to look after my dying aunt and, after that, just did **anything** else but work on my book. We (me and my book) are getting reacquainted this week. I hope it recognizes me. 😉

    3 cheers for beta readers!!!

      • If only we were Demi Lovato, 21 yrs old. Here’s what she told HuffPo about her new book:

        Celebuzz caught up with Lovato this weekend at her Nylon Magazine cover party and asked about her writing process.

        Lovato told the site that the hardest part about completing her book was “finding the time to sit down and write.” Reportedly, the singer was only able to write while traveling, because of her busy work schedule.

        “A lot of people don’t really write their own books [they have ghost writers],” Lovato said, “which is probably something that anybody who’s not a natural author really needs. But this [writing my book] was really easy because it wasn’t a memoir. I have first drafts covered in coffee stains!”

        Lovato’s book, on sale now, is already a New York Times Best Seller.

    • sorry – this is supposed to be a reply to Teri, but I can’t.

      …If only we were Elaine Catton…

      28 years and booker prize.

      Whoops. Sorry for the gap. I fainted

  3. don’t celebrate too hard (yet). She may ask you to put them back in next time she reads it. Reviewers are funny that way.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this so much lately but more along the lines of, when do you just stop? Perhaps trying to keep the plates spinning in the air is just too much. Perhaps the writing is just not good enough to ever transport someone in any meaningful way? Fuck if I know.
    Mary Sunshine

  5. Pingback: The Writing Process Blog Tour | Fangs and Clause

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