I’m in the process of revising Study Machines (the contemporary YA novel I wrote during Spring Break). Except now it’s called Enter Title Here, which makes me laugh every time I think of it. I’m (surprisingly) really enjoying the revision process. On Monday, I spent ten hours cutting 10,000 words. About 1500-2000 of those were in full scenes, the rest was bits and pieces. I’m a bit shocked by it. I literally cut words as rapidly as I normally write them. And I really have no idea what it is that I cut. I think it was mostly extraneous descriptions (describing two gestures where one would do) and shortening dialogue (cutting places where characters said the same thing twice). But it’s hard to tell if I’m tightening the manuscript or just thinning it.
When I revised This Beautiful Fever, I also cut about 9,000 words. But in that case, it was a horrible death-slog through the text. I cut words at a rate of (I’m not kidding) about 150 an hour. I’d spend three hours cutting and all I’d have to show for it was the loss of two manuscript pages. Am I just a better writer now? Or is Enter Title Here a looser book? Or am I going too far in my current cutting?
I dunno, probably a combination of all three.
When I cut words, I do take solace in the idea that there’s nothing sacred about these specific words. I wrote most of them between the hours of 8 PM and 12 AM while I was sitting in either: a) the incredibly cold–and normally uninhabited–living room of my parents’ flat in New Delhi; b) my dad’s (much warmer) office, in that same flat; or c) the window seat of my bedroom in a Sri Lankan villa. These were not words that I sweated blood over. I wrote them in a blind rush. And if I’m cutting too much, then the new words that I write will probably be better and more thought-out than the ones that I cut.
Overall, I am really not a very good reviser. I always look for ways to avoid reimagining the draft in significant ways. It’s obvious (at least to me) that there’s no way I’m telling this story in the most effective and economical way. But, while I know that on an intellectual level, my heart does not agree. It’s kind of in love with the current form of this story. Oh well, that is where the critique process comes in. It was only after it’d gone in front of a few eyes that I was able to make the (fairly significant) changes that This Beautiful Fever needed. I don’t really even need to get suggestions from my critiquers, it’s just that once I know that there are problems in the draft, then my mind finally starts addressing itself to the task of fixing those problems, rather than rationalizing them away.