Tearing It Down to Build It Back Up

Monday, November 09, 2020
It’s day 9 of NaNoWriMo. I’m doing it this year, but I’m not following the official rules. I started with the beginning of a manuscript (15,000 words) and at the end of the month I’m not planning on having 50,000 words. Instead, I will be happy with however many words I get down on paper. 

Most people think novel writing is merely adding words. Accumulate so many sentences, so many paragraphs, so many pages… and you have a novel. They think it’s all about building… building a world, characters, a plot. But writers know that’s not how it is. 

I was watching 60 Minutes last night. One of the stories was about Ken Burns, the man behind countless film series such The Civil War, Baseball, Country Music, The Vietnam War, Jazz, The War and more. Burns talked about how long it took to make each film (5 years). They asked why did he take hundreds and hundreds of photographs, and then not use all of them. Why did he do so many interviews… and then discard some? Why did he have pages of script that never made the final cut? 

Burns said that filmmaking is not an additive process. It’s subtractive. When Ken Burns said that, I nodded my head like a bobblehead doll because I knew what he was talking about. 

I have a rock on my desk at work that has one simple word Mod Podged onto it: deconstruction. It’s there to remind me that writing is more tearing down than building up. We spew out a story. We overwrite. We give too many details… and then we pare away, we slice bits off here and there, we toss words and lines and paragraphs into the recycling bin. We do it to make a tighter story, to give credit to the reader (that they can make inferences and reach conclusions), to ensure that our essay/short story/novel is not rambling. 

                                                                        image by Pixabay

Does it hurt a bit? Does it hurt that we get so many words down, and then we go backwards and have less words? Yes, but in the end it’s so satisfying when we have a taut piece, a piece that has nothing except what is absolutely necessary. 

(I wish my weight was subtractive instead of additive. People are talking about the Covid 19--the 19 pounds they’ve gained since March. I feel like I’m dealing with the Covid 119… and the additive process continues.) 

My WIP--the one I’m working on for NaNoWriMo--is a contemporary YA novel. The main character is a cutter. She gets harrased/bullied… and ends up channeling Emmett Till. I went to a writing retreat this weekend and as I was working on it, I kept checking my word count (to keep encouraging myself). It would go up, and then would go down by five/fifteen/fifty words… and then it would inch up again. I’d see parts that were boring, that slowed down the story, that weren’t needed… and I’d highlight and delete them. 

And that’s what writing is all about. It’s about building up and then tearing away--all to make a stronger story. 

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? How do you go about revising? Deconstructing minds want to know...

Sioux Roslawski is a middle-school teacher, a dog rescuer and a freelance writer. She has a middle-grade novel coming out in the spring of 2021. The working title is The Murder of Greenwood. If you'd like to read more of Sioux's writing, check out Sioux's Page.


Jeanine DeHoney said...

Sioux, I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo, but I am in the process of tearing away at my novel's story to make it stronger. Good luck as you do the same.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Not doing Nano, either, but I AM thinking about the next story.

And I'm not sure I have one tried and true way of revision; sometimes, I cut and sometimes I add and sometimes, I toss it all out and start over. It's very similar to my attempts at baking. :-)

Renee Roberson said...

I'm one of those people who, when working on something for NaNoWriMo, tries to get everything out on paper first and then go back and edit later. If I edit while I go along I'll drive myself crazy. I know you will get there with this one though, because it's been in your heart and mind for such a long time! (I have NaNoWriMo FOMO this year, because I'm not participating because of deadlines and still trying to be somewhat productive with the podcast writing). But I'll be sending you positive writing vibes!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Jeanine--When your novel is for sale, I'll be in line. And after Saturday, we now have another reason to celebrate!

Cathy--You're a successful writer, so I imagine your baking attempts end up favorably as well.

Renee--Just letting loose of that internal editor and writing with abandon is the best way to go when it comes to NaNoWriMo. I am not pushing myself this year. I'm channeling Doris Day: what will be, will be...

Cathy C. Hall said...

Ah, Sioux, me and baking. You'd imagine wrong. Hahahahhaa!

Unknown said...

Cathy--They say that baking is a science and cooking is an art. So you're no scientist... but you ARE an artist. ;)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I too am doing NaNoWriMo my way. My plan is to reach the end of this draft. I think it will take about 25,000 words but I've been wrong before. I'm still learning my fiction process. But as I hit the last 1/4 of the manuscript I gave two of my characters new careers. This is huge because it cuts at least one character completely. And another will need a new career as well. Which will make for HUGE changes. Ah, well. Writing is, for me, rewriting. Deconstructing? Probably but I tend to think of it as reconstructing.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Ooooh, Sue. I like that. Reconstructing. Restructuring. I can envision new rebar being added, and more... Rebar is all I have when it comes to construction.

Good luck with your NaNoWriMoRoSty--National Novel Writing Month Rogue Style.

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