Writer Tech: I HATE THIS BOOK.

It’s not the book. It’s me. I am completely fed up with every single word I’ve written. I am convinced that there is not a single interesting fact or phrase in the entire manuscript. I am bored numb by every character except for the two who appear at the end — and those are the ones my beta-test readers tell me I should cut.

If you’ve been following this process, you know that I completed the first draft of Epitaph at the end of July. Complete is not finished. I do a lot of editing along the way, but it isn’t until the entire story exists that I can go back to the beginning and identify passages that once seemed important but aren’t necessary to the story in its final form.

Typically, I over-write, so editing for me generally means cutting and tightening. The first draft of Epitaph weighed in at 197,888 words. That’s 766 pages in double-spaced manuscript, which is 520 pages in published form.

And that is just too damned long.

It shouldn’t take more words to tell the story of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral than it did to tell the story of the Nazi occupation of Italy. So I’ve spent the past month glaring at every single word in the Epitaph manuscript, aiming to cut 30,000 of them.

The beginning of a manuscript is usually the biggest mess because there are so many open-ended questions to answer when you start. First person or omniscient third? Past tense or present? Consistent narrative voice, or shifting points of view with narrative inflected by character? What’s the scope of the story — a week? A year? A lifetime? Straightforward chronology or recursive? Who’s the backbone character that the reader can follow to the end?

Initially, this book was present tense, straight chronology, beginning and ending with Josephine Sarah Marcus, who lived with Wyatt Earp for 49 years. After a 150 pages, I found that present tense was just too restrictive, so I rewrote the whole thing in past tense. And because of early feedback from my agent, I changed the structure so I could begin with a chapter that featured Doc Holliday, to let readers of Doc reconnect with him.

I like that chapter a lot, but it made Josie’s story a flashback, and last week I spent three days re-restructuring the first 100 pages to see if it was better as a straight chronology. It wasn’t, so I went back to the recursive structure, but had to incorporate the tightening I’d done while trying the new version.

What all this means is that I’ve been over the first 250 pages of this wretched thing about 250 times. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Take a break, Mar.” But I’ve played this game six times now, and I know the only way to get through this stretch of frustration is to put my head down and bull my way through it.

That said, ranting in a blog is therapeutic.

7 thoughts on “Writer Tech: I HATE THIS BOOK.”

  1. I giggled when i read this post — ah it seems “familiarity breeds contempt” as my mom–lover of all cliches–used to say. We fans out here are sure as shootin’ that your manuscript is wonderful, but you are just sick of it right now. Thus the hate mail you wrote. This will pass in time, and it wouldn’t hurt to get away from it and go see a movie or rent one, go to a museum or fancy restaurant, have a beer or something.

  2. Think of the book as a dachshund. To quote you from “Dreamers of the Day”:
    “The dachshund is a perfectly engineered dog. It is precisely long enough for a single standard stroke of the back, but you aren’t paying for any superfluous leg.”
    Just the right length.

  3. I blogged on this same subject this week. After three years of putting together a survey of writers of early frontier fiction, I have enough for a Montgomery Ward catalog. Reaching half-way through the 2nd draft today.

    As for starting with Doc, that in my opinion was bum advice. Anyone who’s read the first book doesn’t need a bridge into the 2nd one. My guess is that whatever you cut from the current draft is going to leave a compelling story that I’d drop everything to read right now today if I had a copy. And don’t take too long; I’m not going to live forever.


  4. Have to disagree with above poster re beginning with Doc himself. I think it’s a good idea, after all, it’s been a while since Doc came out, so refresher courses are welcome.

    Very happy to here there is actually a sequel coming out…soonish. 🙂

  5. I dunno — I like ‘Russian’ and also like ‘learned to lie’. That said, I’m completely with Ron Sheer!

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