Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Randy: Happy Cutting

I was sitting here staring at the 58 files of approximately 500 to 2000 words called "my current novel” when it suddenly occurred to me to check and see what day I was signed up for on the blog schedule. Surprise.

So I started dusting off some of my old lectures, including six or seven called “How to Write a Novel: a Process” and one about how I learned to write dialogue from reading the novel The Graduate when I was in seventh grade.

Then I found a lecture that was old but luckily didn’t have very many typos, which would lend itself to a quick cut, paste, and post.

It’s basically about rereading my writing and getting up the nerve to cut the 90 percent that is off key, false, and boring, and to recognize the 10 percent in which "the mood is different, the tone is quieter, more subdued." And in which the writing’s "not as forced, yet somehow charged with something--life, energy, something."

Like I said, it’s an old lecture. The truth is I don’t actually have the nerve to cut that 90 percent of crap. I just create a new file for it and call it something totally dishonest like “To Be Used Later” or “Will Definitely Find Somewhere To Put This” or “Just a Temporary Parking Lot” or even “Not Quite A-Team Stuff But Still Very Usable Somewhere Down the Line.”

In the end I decided not to use that lecture at all because I remembered the George Saunders interview I read recently in a book of author interviews called The World Within, published by Tin House Books, 2007.

George Saunders said it much better than I did:

“With writing, you have your eyes closed and you’re passing your hand over the stove trying to find out where the hot spots are. My thought is that you trust the hot spots. Don’t even think about anything else. Look for the place where the prose energy is high. Cut away the other stuff -- be brave enough to do that. Looking at the story and saying ‘these three pages don’t do anything’ -- so I cut them. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen -- just cut it.Sometimes you have fragments lying around, and you don’t know how they’re connected. As long as you trust the hot spots, you’ll have in time a bulk of text that doesn’t suck, and the plot comes out of that. How do these non-sucky parts fit together. Maintain your standards, keep cutting, and in time the story will reveal itself.”

I highly recommend the author, the interview, and the book.


  1. I'm intrigued about the 58 files-- because I'm looking at roughly the same thing. My ms started out as one file, but in the route to revision I split up each part to get a closer look. Do you start out with seperate files, and sew together at the end, or do you start with one file for your novel, and pull apart and then put back together? I am fascinated by writing methods.

  2. Love this. Close your eyes and feel for the hot spots hints at the great mystery of writing even for experienced writers, but at the same time gives guidance. Of course, best case scenario, your hand gets burned all the time. Ah, the price of art.

  3. Sara and my editor are uncanny at sniffing out my cold spots. They'll say something like, "Um, this section is a little thin..." and I'll think, "Busted!", remembering how uninspired I felt when I wrote that part. Thank heaven for excellent agents and editors for holding our feet to the fire.