Friends, I was humming along so smoothly on my ghosts & chihuahuas. I thrashed it up to 25k words, which is practically almost most of a whole middle grade novel.
I turned the first chapter into a short story. I am notorious for doing this. The reason is that I can't really write short stories, but I can write first chapters. My mom says novels are like a journey that goes along but short stories are like dark rooms that slowly get lit up. Or something like that. Maybe it was a window that slowly opens. Or maybe she never said that, or was talking about something else, or I dreamed it. Anyway.
After I cannibalized my novel for that short story, I felt . . . kind of done with it. Like I had written this whole novel just to get a short story out of the first chapter. Yeah, that seems to be the only way I can actually write short stories. (I mean, hey, I'm the last one to criticize anyone's process, but really? REALLY?)
That is a sucky feeling. Suckfest. Because you've written all these WORDS. Like, SO MANY WORDS. Sure, I know there are people who crank out 8k a day, but friends, that is not me. Two to three thousand words is a super good day for me. The "peanut butter straight from the jar and guilt-free gaming into the wee hours" kind of good. Still, when I looked at this almost-almost-novel, despite its ghosts and small, awful dogs, I just felt . . . meh.
My dad explaining to my mom's escaped-and-recaptured chihuahua that he can't go walkies today.
I mean, it was okay because I was working on other stuff, too. Writer Advice of the Day: Be working on other stuff, too. But still a bit of a letdown.
I went to writers' group. It was a six-week for-fun kind of thing at the library that turned into a twelve-week for-fun kind of thing, and then summer hit and everyone was busy. We had an exercise every week from different people, sometimes based on what happened that week at the session. This particular Tuesday, a lot of people seemed to read stuff that had to do with lists. So, since it was my turn to do an exercise, I came up with a list-writing thing. Not earth-shattering, but kind of timely and not overwhelming.
Not to toot my own tooter, but I totally inspired myself. Writer Pep Talk of the Day: You can inspire yourself. I chose this character who'd been oozing around my head and just wrote a couple of listy paragraphs about him. Those paragraphs immediately clicked into a first chapter of a new middle grade story that needs chunks from the old ghost novel. Or maybe it's a rewrite of that novel.
Anyway, that's the story of how I cut 25,000 words from my 25,000-word novel. You know, once you kill your darlings, you sometimes realize they weren't so darling after all.
Here's the exercise part:
Taken from the email to my writing group:
Today’s readings — sorting, searching, preparing — got me thinking about lists. Many writing exercises involve list-making as a way to organize your thoughts or understand your characters. But sometimes the lists themselves find a place in the final piece. They become more than just lists. They set a scene or show us who a character really is.
I’ve included three examples. Each of these pieces is essentially a list, and they are all very different from each other:
An excerpt from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried
The short story “Girl,” by Jamaica Kincaid
An excerpt from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
For this week, I challenge each of us to write a piece that includes a list!
For the more specific challenge: Choose one of your characters and write a couple listy paragraphs about them. Let the mundane happen and don't censor yourself if things get weird or random.
(For more inspiration, read the first two or three sentences of each chapter in Louis Sachar's Sideways Stories from Wayside School.)