Jeannine Atkins: Word Count: Adding, Not Subtracting
We who write children’s books are invested in hopeful if not happy endings, but it doesn’t mean we’re not aware that stories can end in other ways. So these past two months, while doing some radical trimming and promising myself the joy of writing the last third of the book as a reward, I had a niggling fear that my reward would take an ironic turn, that my pen would feel heavier than the knife I’d been weilding. I longed to get my character to Europe c. 1870, and reap the pleasure as if I were there myself, minus jet lag (or seasickness) and bills.
My porch isn’t Paris, but I’m having fun in territory that’s familiar, with enough time having passed between drafts that it feels fresh. Those hats laden with feathers! Those gloves with buttons to the elbow! That bread and cheese! And after all this time with a blade, I’ve got a sense in my bones of wanting to keep things somewhat lean, which makes sense as things stream toward a conclusion. There will be some flooding, conversations that may meander, but I’m doing my best to keep them from circling. I like moving forward, even though, just as in the children’s game of Mother, May I?, there are occasional side steps and giant leaps back. But I’m determined to cross that finish line. Conversations in my head go like this: Is it hot on the porch? Yes. Well, you might as well keep writing. Is it not sweltering? Yes. Yay, what a great day to write.
Sometimes writers have to put in words we’re bound to take out, and the high temps made me less than vigilant. It’s all okay. I know my good writing group will point out sentences and possibly chapters that don’t belong. I won’t be sanguine, though I’ll try not to moan. And remember that while tearing into my manuscript to pull out digressions and fluff and just general lengthiness, the ragged edges that were left gave me a few new ideas. The poking made the manuscript feel more stretchy, inviting new thoughts, so I added, and backtracked. Other holes realigned or stayed as they were, giving a smart smack of stopping while I’m ahead. I hope.
Now, should I cut that last sentence? I’m leaving it for now. The great period of second and third guessing will come later. For now I’m enjoying moving forward. Mother, May I? Yes, you may.