June 21, 2017
Finished the final edits for the “Bingo Ray” collection last week, and I’m happy to say all eight of my books are now as ready as may be possible for this particular author. A year ago I was prepared to say the same thing, but I want to thank whoever encouraged me to have another go-round with the abandoned novel, because the reawakened editor in me is what made another pass through EVERY short story seem plausible and worthwhile. I’m definitely pleased with the results and hope you will be, too.
For those of you who have already read everything - there are a couple of you out there! - I want to stress how no changes were made to the plot points or the general arch to each story. But I wrestled with how to make certain sentences clearer, and rethought my word choices MANY times, and yes, even deleted unnecessary sections here and there. Which was probably the most painful part…
The experience reminded me of a BreadLoaf Writers’ Conference I attended years ago. John Irving was giving a lecture and the classroom was packed. And his main suggestion to the eager-to-learn students was to absolutely know your story inside and out before writing down the first word. Because if you’re a great writer - and here he stressed how we all must be, otherwise we wouldn’t in attendance - you’ll never want to throw away anything once it’s been written.
Another great writer, Tim O’Brien, made a point in his equally-well-attended class to dispute this theory. He said this practice was fine if it worked for John Irving, but for him the ensuing writing process would be too boring, almost as if you’re simply connecting the dots, and he wanted our impressionable minds to know this was not the way he worked. For him - and I’m paraphrasing, obviously - the beauty of writing is when you discover, sometimes accidentally, where the story itself may be wanting to go.
Through the years, I’ve always identified much more with Tim O’Brien’s style - although I’m sure my stories bear little resemblance to his amazingly beautiful prose. And I still enjoy surprising myself with unexpected left-hand turns as I write. But after dismissing his advice for years, I want to at least now acknowledge how John Irving certainly had a point. Because even when you know a scene doesn’t necessarily move a story along, it’s almost unbearable to permanently delete something after you’ve taken the time to write it down. It’s almost as if you’re pushing a good friend off a cliff. You feel loyal to those typed words, many of which have been faithfully occupying space in your compositions for years and years.
I read somewhere that Judd Apatow dismisses all criticisms of his movies being too long by arguing how the writer is in a unique position to do whatever he or she pleases, after having taken the time and effort to create. And so if you think a two-and-a-half hour movie is too long, that’s too bad. But the truth is many of his movies are FAR too long. He needs an editor who will throw a scene or two off the cliff. If he was smart, he would hire me, but I think I might have already lost him a sentence or two ago.
Anyway, I guess I’m saying I’ve got new respect for the value of good editing. Although, I’ll admit - I remain foolish enough to hope my next round of short stories won’t require nearly the amount I’ve just put into these eight books!
We’ll see - I’ll keep you posted! Thanks again for all the support you’ve given for michaelaba.com, and I’ll be sure to jot down a few more words (in need of editing, more than likely) this time next month!