Brown River Queen cover art

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Unwriting Life

It is said that Tragedy is most often found on the heels of Triumph.

Nah.  I made that up, just now.  But it should be said, because in my experience it's true.

Take my triumphant completion of The Bonnie Bell, for instance.  I crowed about it in these very pages.  I even named a blog after the word count, which in retrospect wasn't a very smart thing to do, because that very word count came quickly back to haunt me.

The Bonnie Bell weighed in at a somewhat overfed 128,000 words.  Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with a novel being 128,000 words long.

Unless one's publisher has a firm 120,000 word upper length limit.


So eight thousand words had to go.

I've known a few writers who would have balked at the very idea of cutting 8K out of a finished novel.  What of my vision, they would cry.  What of my artistic integrity?  What of my soul?

What of my bank account, quoth I.

I'm not one of those artsy guys.  If eight thousand words have to go, they have to go.

So I began the process I call unwriting.

Writing is easy.  You put words together so they bring the movie in your head to life.

Unwriting is harder.  You want to keep the scenes intact.  You want the flavor, the mood, the feeling of the words to remain intact.

But you've got to go into the text and make words disappear.  And you've got to do that without ruining the images and feelings they evoke.

It's like playing Jenga.  You've got a precarious, leaning tower of words.  Each word touches the others.  Removing even one is tricky.

Removing eight thousand is tricky indeed.

But that's what I get paid for.  And even my ego recognizes that if words I wrote can be removed without harming the work, then they should be removed, because they aren't vital.  And if they aren't vital, then they're just loafing around, and that's no way to write a novel.

So I'm unwriting.  Reading the thing aloud, listening for awkwardness.  Slashing when I hear it.  Tightening.  Tweaking.  Surgically removing dead tissue.

When I'm done, The Bonnie Bell will be leaner, meaner, faster, stronger.  And better. Much better.

It's back to the delete key for me.  I think it snowed earlier.  White cold stuff, that's snow, right?

No matter.  Back to unwriting!


  1. Is Markhat hip enough to toss around lingo like lol and rofl and byob?