Not writing a draft, that is. Three weeks ago I sent my editor a the finished manuscript for Night, Night, Sleep Tight. A few days ago I got an email back, and I quote: "This is my FAVORITE of all your books. I LOVE IT." Her caps.
And I thought, OF COURSE!
I began writing this novel two long years ago. It's morphed and twisted, and finally I wrestled it into some semblance of order. I have plots. Subplots. Characters I adore. Themes! I don't even know where they came from but there they are!
But honestly? If my editor had written me and said, "Uh oh. I hate to say this, but it's just not that good..." I would have believed it.
Instead of toasting myself with Prosecco Bellinis and baking a celebratory pineapple upside down cake, I'd be flagellating myself with recriminations and saying, "I knew it was terrible. What ever made me think I could write a novel?"
I might even have highlighted the entire 309-page manuscript and dumped the whole thing into my OUT file which is already 229 pages long.
Every novel I write has an "OUT" file. It's where I put the stuff I write and then delete. Plot twists that go nowhere useful. Characters I no longer need. Overwritten description. Underwritten description. Passages that are too dark or too snarky or just plain boring.
This is why it takes me so long to finish a novel. Even though I outline, when I go to write it I'm constantly second-guessing myself, taking out, revising, doing what I hope amounts to making it better but sometimes only making it shorter.
So today I thought I'd entertain you with an excerpt from my OUT file.
Here's a passage from what I thought would Page One of the novel but which now lives in the OUT file. Back then, the main character was named Beth (she's now Deirdre.) She was living in New York (now she's in San Diego.) And she's received an invitation to attend her 20th Beverly Hills High School reunion (the entire reunion is gone from the book).
Beth hasn't been back to Beverly Hills, never mind her old high school, for ages. The prospect of seeing girls she went to school with brings back a flood of unpleasant memories.
From my OUT file:
The invitation to Beth’s 20th Beverly Hills High School reunion came on a Saturday. Don’t miss this evening and chance to visit with “old friends."Can you tell this comes from experience? Which is why I had to take it out. Because this did not turn out to be a book about me. It did not turn out to be about not fitting in in high school. And the fictional main character I created evolved so much over the course of writing the novel that she no longer sounded like this.
Her gut twisted just thinking about it. Up came memories of shoes—that’s what growing up there had been about. This seemed perfectly ludicrous in retrospect, and even back in 1961 she'd known that getting Those Shoes wouldn’t make her fit in. And yet in ninth grade, what she lusted after, dreamed about, obsessed over were baby-blue, pink, or avocado-green ballerina flats with a T-strap low across the instep and three petal-shaped cutouts over the toe. They were made by Pappagallo.
Sure, you could get knock-offs at Chandlers a few blocks away, but they weren’t soft and supple, and they didn’t flex when you wiggled your toes. Even Beth could have spotted wannabe shoes, though the term wannabe had yet to be invented in what would be 90210 when they got around to using zip codes.
Still, I love those paragraphs so I shall keep them for perpetuity rather than wipe them out completely. Maybe one day I will write something it fits into.
I did, in fact, go to my twentieth high school reunion. I wore a blue flowered shirtwaist dress and the popular girls were there in short-short lace baby-doll dresses and footless tights. I felt like a piece of outsider art.
Which brings me to today's question: What were "those shoes" at your high school, the object of desire that seemed to separate the kids who had it all from the rest of us?