On my fortieth birthday, I promised myself that I would work on the book I am writing every single day of this year. Then I made another promise that I wouldn’t take that first promise so seriously that if I missed a day, I’d say nasty things to myself like you failed, asshole!
Together these promises draw me daily to the document currently named “Structural Edits of Novel.” Riveting right? (Coming to a Costco book table near you in 2014 2015.) I shouldn’t be counting the days I miss, but I am. Of course, I am because MASOCHIST. I know you want to know the number so you can (1) judge me for being so lazy and/or (2) judge me for being too intense. So far, since July 21, 2013, I have missed three days.
And to be clear, “working on my book,” many days has amounted to 10 minutes of editing one paragraph or a single sentence. But ten minutes counts because it only takes 6 of those suckers to make an hour.
Since I’ve made this commitment, I’ve stumbled upon many things that have helped me soldier on the face of doubts that threaten to outpace my dreams and talent. I’ve got writer friends supporting me and have plugged into writing communities. I talk about the process in therapy, but I’ve bored my therapy group so thoroughly they are all begging our therapist for stronger drugs so they can tolerate sitting through sessions where I talk about My Book. Most importantly, I show up at the blank page (or the shitty first draft) every day. And some days, the sight of my words makes me want to drain all the body out of my body and donate it a “real writer.”
But as I slog through this latest round of edits/revisions, nothing has helped me more than finding a muse. Maybe you know him: Louis CK.
Two weekends ago a friend lent us the first season of Louis CK, and I am hooked like a junkie who just discovered crack. Suddenly, I can barely live until we watch the next episode. Each one is insightful, a bit offensive, and compulsively entertaining. It’s possible his show is all the more appealing to me because I haven’t watched TV since June. (Yes, I am being sanctimonious about not watching TV all summer while you were plugged into Breaking Bad, X Factor, and Homeland. Slap me in your fantasies, because I deserve it.)
But here’s why Louis is my muse: after you watch an episode of his show, you can watch it again with commentary from Louis, which I love more than the episode. I can’t tell you how many times he says, “Oh, we shot this as whole scene and I just edited it down to the teensy weensy moment during the credits.” Every time I hear that my whole body springs to attention. I mean, my mitochondria yells, what the fuck? I have a hard time cutting scenes I’ve written– like that awesome scene where my protagonist goes on a date with a guy who she later learns is gay or the one where she buys a J. Crew coat that isn’t even on sale. Those scenes suck but it’s been hard not to shoehorn them in the book because I can’t let go.
Listening to Louis, however, I realize how cheap it is to edit writing. After all, I didn’t have to pay actors and camera operators and obtain permits from NYC to shoot in a public park or rent a school bus. All I had to do was march some words across a page and then see with my own two eyes that standing in line at the DMV is more fun than reading them.
The cutting room floor is now littered with scenes that just don’t fit, either because they slow my story down or the writing is crap. Or both.
Now as I watch my pinkie finger make its way to the DELETE button erasing the words that aren’t strong enough to stand up the winds of criticism, I feel brave, like a real artist. Like Louis CK, except I have vowels in my last name.