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Spill Your Guts Out

September 5, 2012

I took me exactly one year and 12 days to complete “The Champagne Ladies.”  My goal was a minimum of 700 words a day; sometimes I did a little more and on other days fell short (worst day was 119 words). One day I spent two hours struggling to get a paragraph to come out right.

I wanted a first draft that wouldn’t need much revision, maybe a different verb here and there or cutting a few adjectives, perhaps changing a line of dialogue. After the draft was completed I set it aside for only a day or two and went back to it. My first thought: I was nuttier than an acorn tree to think the manuscript needed only minor work. I ended up revising it eight times and then gave it a final polish.

There were pages that added nothing to the plot, theme or character development. Early scenes contradicted later ones. I caught a major hole in the plot. I spelled a character’s name two different ways. Other things were just plain dumb.

What happened was I spilled my guts out in that first draft, though I didn’t know it at the time. The words flowed like a raging river except for the day when I wrote only 119. Then they flowed like molasses in January. The final, published version is 4,000 words shorter than the first draft.

As I did all the cutting I realized that I hadn’t wasted time on that draft. During the revisions, story points came into clearer focus and I was able to add scenes and dialogue that better fit the characters.

I’m glad I spilled my guts out. By the way, I saved much of what I cut for possible use in future stories and novels. F. Scott Fitzerald advised writers never to throw out anything they’d written. He literally cut sentences and paragraphs from first drafts and unpublished material and taped them onto the manuscript he was working on.

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