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.