word craft


Small Things

A cou­ple of weeks back I wrote about fin­ish­ing a man­u­script and then send­ing it to my edi­tor two days before it was—by contract—due. She received it gra­cious­ly but let me know that because of her own press of work, she would not be get­ting back to it until ear­ly next year. This is the cur­rent state of pub­lish­ing: Over­worked edi­tors, inad­e­quate staffing. Like the rest of America. 

The way I work it is often the case that when I send a book in do I have (hope­ful­ly) a full sense of what the book is about. Typ­i­cal­ly, only dur­ing the last few days of work (after a year or so) do I write the end­ing. That’s because I like my end­ing to flow out of the book, let­ting it emerge (and sur­pris­ing me) out of the feel­ings that pro­ceeds it. If it doesn’t sound too goofy to suggest—if I don’t have strong emo­tions as I write that ending—I don’t think it’s right. 

To para­phrase Robert Frost: No emo­tions for the writer, no emo­tions for the reader. 


This time-lapse, before revi­sions start in earnest, allows me to go back to the book. (I did have to meet that dead­line) I’m not look­ing to make big changes. But the whole now informs the parts, so, I find myself mak­ing lots of small changes. Bits. Pieces. Nuances. Right words. All of which gives depth to the human­i­ty of the story—assuming it has come. 

At this point, I am not so much writ­ing the book, as the book is telling me where to make addi­tions (or sub­trac­tions), changes, and word choices—all small, but I think vital. I’m expe­ri­enc­ing the book as some­thing real, not mere­ly a fab­ri­ca­tion, and adjust­ing accordingly. 

I believe—it’s what makes writ­ing hard—that every­thing in a sto­ry needs to be inter­con­nect­ed, all one log­i­cal and emo­tion­al line first to last. It’s the small things that make a book good. 

Do I suc­ceed in achiev­ing that? Sure­ly, far from always. But, to the extent that I do, I will have a far bet­ter book. 

And in my spare time, I am work­ing out the sto­ry­line of a new book. I’ll tell you how it works out in a year. 

“So it goes,” to quote Kurt Vonnegut. 

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