So what about the process of writing a book? Writing for me often happens in a variety of places and times. The story can be molded at 2:00am pounding away at a desktop or in a boring meeting surreptitiously taking notes on a napkin or on a laptop during a cross-country flight. Sometimes my writing is structured with notes neatly organized to one side, coffee steaming pleasantly on the other and distractions shut out by a closed office door. At other times it’s in the middle of a pile of wastepaper with bloodshot eyes and numbed, tingling fingers that a chapter emerges.
I’ve heard that most writers have to edit. Dr. Suess says “So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
To that noble end, I do the chore of whittling words down so that you don’t have to. Entire sections are edited—or scrapped completely and re-written. Grammar is painstakingly corrected and if a word doesn’t fit perfectly it is tossed aside without preamble and the hunt for a better word starts.
I’ll give you a short example. Watch the change that comes to this section of A Hero’s Curse before several revisions, a character re-naming, verb tense changes and story restructuring:
The Rock Lizard scampered across the ledge to a point he could continue to watch the little girl and her cat. It tasted the air again with its great long purple tongue.
Essie continued down the ravine, but now she could touch both sides of the ravine with her walking stick. The water had gotten deeper, and came almost up to her knees, and Kitty had been obliged to get his feet wet, which under any other circumstances he would have been very irritated by, but no w he didn’t mind so much because it really did cool him off.
Essie’s stick suddenly found the rock ravine was not just on either side, it was in front of her as well—she had met a dead end. And yet, the water was coming from somewhere. “Kitty, I think the water comes from in here, “Essie called as she stuck her head in a hole just as large as she was in the rock face. She stuck her head a little further in and whispered “hello?” The whisper echoed faintly. “Well it must get bigger inside “she said. “Come on Kitty,” She sloshed over to the edge to pick up Kitty. “I’ll carry you, you big baby.” But Kitty hissed. It could finally see the Rock Lizard perched on a ledge only a few feet above, flicking its purple tongue in and out ominously. Essie frowned and put her hands on her hips.
“Kitty, that’s not fair, you said you would come with me and I’m offering to carry you.” The Rock Lizard opened its mouth wide and hissed. Essie gasped and turned her head instinctively to better hear what was above her. The Rock Lizard’s yellow mouth was better than a beacon light—Kitty leapt into the pool as if he had been electrocuted.
And now here’s the section again after revision, scrapping and cleanup:
Now, in the lava flow, I again tell myself not to panic. What do I know? I ask myself. It’s hot—and sticky. Water moves over my hot feet. Cool water. Even though it’s small my pack is heavy. I feel a prickle run up my spine. Something is close. Something that’s not human—something big, calculating—stalking. The feeling of choking starts to come back. The water is cool.
The water is cool. I let out a tiny gasp. I feel Tig puff up, but he is looking at me.
“Tig, the water is cool,” I whisper hurriedly.
I can feel his incredulous look. “Thanks for that,” says Tig slowly, “Maybe I’ll have a drink, and then die.”
“The water is cool,” I repeat.
“I heard you the first time Ess,” says Tig, “and honestly it wasn’t that impressive then.”
I flap a hand impatiently. “It’s coming from underground,” I say, as if this explains everything.
I can feel that Tig is not getting it. “if you were hoping they don’t eat crazy blind girls,” he says, “I wouldn’t count on it. I don’t think they care if you’re crazy, or blind. They’re probably more interested…”
“Shut up,” I hiss, “this river has some underground source, possibly a cave, and we’re close to that source.”
Tig lets out a long breath I know that he gets it.
“We have to get to that cave,” he says. “Now.”