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February 17, 2009


A novel is a bit like a giant puzzle you assemble without a finished product to reference. There is no completed picture on the box, no particular sequence to follow.

If an aspect of the novel doesn’t flow with the rest, it’s like trying to cram together two puzzle pieces that don’t quite match. You turn the piece from side to side, flip it over, swivel it 90 degrees, perhaps smooth the cardboard with your finger in hopes that a jagged edge is preventing the desired connection.

But in the end, you have to remove the piece entirely and sift through the pile for a new one.

While working on my novel, I’ve been forced to dump single words, entire paragraphs, even pages at a time, and each cut is like a dagger through the heart. Swear to God, I’m so connected to the manuscript that every time I sit down to edit a section, I expect bright arterial blood to suddenly spurt from my computer monitor.

It’s physically draining. I can only edit for an hour or two at a time before I need a cocktail and a nap, and even then I don’t want to edit again for a few days.

What keeps me going? The thought of the finished product. I can visualize the completed manuscript in my mind, feel the weight of the stack of copy paper in my hands. I’ve already written several drafts of query letters in preparation, and nothing is more exciting to me than the day I might start shopping it to agents.

I know, I know, this is something that every writer covets, the moment of truth, if you will. I’ve walked my ghostwriting clients through the process several times, but this is different. You know?

The pieces of the puzzle might require constant rearranging and even extraction, but I think I’ll make it through with all my body parts intact. One can hope. I just find myself mentally apologizing to my characters when I snip their dialogue or remove a scene, which makes me wonder if I’m not crazy after all.

Do you find the editing process painful? Do you agonize over every scene, struggling with whether or not to alter it? I want to know.

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