In my other life, I am an actual writer, even if I am less productive than I would like to be.  I’m slowly surrendering to the fact that housewives with young children must work slowly.  Verrrrrrrrry slooooooowwwwwwllllllllyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.  And if you think that was hard to read, you should try writing that way sometime.

Most of my work is fiction, but there is an essay I have been working on in one incarnation or another for the last two years or so.  Dear me, “or so.”  Is it possible?  Unfortunately, yes.  Part of me is grateful for the wide time frame, as it probably made the piece much better than it set out to be.  On the other hand, the more time that goes by, the more I re-read and re-write until I just can’t stand to look at it another minute, and that’s when I give up and work on something else, which is why, two years or so later, I have not finished it. 

A couple months ago I felt that I was very close to finishing.  So close, and yet so far.  It was all coming together, only…not.  I was writing great stuff–I knew I was writing great stuff–but it wasn’t cohering the way I wanted it to.  I didn’t have an ending.  That’s a problem, see, because all good writing must eventually come to an end.  It’s only the bad writing that goes on and on forever (“or so”).  I asked a fellow writer to look at it because I had re-read and re-written to the point that I no longer trusted my own judgment.  “It is rambling and incoherent and I can’t do a thing with it,” I told her.  “Take it apart.  Be brutal.  Be brutal, I tell you.”

Well, thanks to her input and the much-deserved vacation from the infernal essay, I managed to figure out where I was going with this piece and how I was going to get there, and I finished it.  Sort of.  It was now coherent (good), but still much too long (bad).  To the tune of about 1,200 words too long (very bad). 

When writing a personal essay, there is this temptation to start with the Dawn of Time, gloss over the less dynamic aspects of the Second Ice Age so that you can focus more on how man came to smelt ore and forge tools before finally getting to your effing point.  I admit I suffer from this malady.  At least I know myself.  And as “Know Thyself” is the first law of self-editing, I figured I could trim 1,200 words off this beast without shedding too many tears.  I’ve given birth four times without anesthesia, for crying out loud.  So, like a rich old lady carving ungrateful grandchildren out of her will, I set out to cut, cut, cut.  Like an evil corporation downsizing its loyal employees for the sake of its bottom line, I resolved to lay off those 1,200 words like the dead weight they were.  I’m not like those other writers, in love with every word they’ve ever written–pssshhh!  I blog, for goodness sake.  Is that the pastime of a writer who cares too much?

An hour and a half later, I had trimmed 200 whole words.

Well, 200–that’s not bad.  It’s almost…twenty percent, which is only half of forty percent, which is…NOT EVEN HALF OF WHAT I’M SUPPOSED TO BE TRIMMING!  IT’S HOPELESS!  AUUUUGHHHHH!

Okay, and then a week later I sat down for another hour and a half and trimmed about 250 more words. 

The following week I took a much-needed break.

Today I knew that I must sit down and prune this sucker back once and for all, but as I sat down to do so, I began to despair.  I came very close to scrawling I AM A FAT, VERBOSE LOSER! over the front of the manuscript and stuffing it in the Put Me Out Of My Misery For The Love Of God file.  But then I remembered that time at the newspaper when my editor was struggling to cut a couple inches off something she’d written for the Home and Garden section.  “You see,” she said, “I’m still a writer at heart.”  And I knew that I must never give up.  Never, never, never!

So I set to work, chanting, “I’m an editor, not a writer, I’m an editor, not a writer” over and over–well, not out loud or anything, only in my head, and you know the voices in my head are all that count–and about forty minutes later I emerged triumphant.  I had cut 1,200 words.  I was at fighting weight, by gum!

The only problem now is that I’ve spent so much time on the piece, I am back to hating it.  Not because of what I’ve cut–that was pure swill, ack! phooey!–but what’s left is strangely uncompelling.  I know.  You’re going to tell me that I fear success or some such crap.  I actually think my Zoloft needs adjustment.  But it mattereth not.  I proved that I could do something when I set my mind to it.  And who knows–perhaps the voices in my head will talk to the voices in my potential editor’s head and we can work something out. 

Did you realize that this post is 887 words long?

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