the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Tag: editing

Rewriting Everything

by MDY

There are some things which cannot be salvaged. Being able to identify these “irreparables” is a matter of painful experience: there’s no more heartbreaking lesson than spending days trying to correct a piece of prose and finding it even worse off by the end. The only solution is to kill what you have birthed, and recreate it anew. My most recent short started out as a vignette of international migration and intergenerational incomprehension; but the premise itself (stamp-shopping and coffee in Geneva) was so bland that the dialogue and description simply had nothing to support them. So I killed everything past the first “boat” scene – which I knew worked, because it was different versions of me spliced into a single scenario and when you’re writing yourself you tend to capture the truth of things far more achingly than otherwise. And then I spun it out into something completely different. I used to be a fearful kid – fearful of deep water, and caterpillars, and making mistakes. I still am, but I realise other people are too. Our best art – and our best decisions – often stem from knowing when to hold on and when to let go and when to come back once more.


The dangers of redrafting

by MDY

Never save attachment. Any love you hold for your words is incidental at best, and fatal at worst. It distracts from your primary purpose: instilling feeling in the cavities of others. Like a surgeon, cut away at the flab and scar tissue that tethers itself to your prose; your job, after all, is not to anaesthetise the reader but to electrify their synaptic connections. Neurons that fire together, wire together. The more you cut, the more you can cut.

Go for the easy targets first. Adjectives often add unnecessary ballast, so jettison them. Adverbs should be treated like benign cancers: seemingly harmless, but why would you take the chance? Avoid alliteration. Go for the harder targets not first. Superfluous sentences will feel too heavy, or not enough. When hunting paragraphs, know that the weakest targets are the ones whose absence would go unnoticed in the pack. Spare them no mercy in their febrility, for your readers will afford you none. There is only one question: Is this really necessary?

Violence, even to your own creations, can become an addiction. I was trained to cut, and cut hard, but I one day found myself burning fertile exposition along with its descriptors. It’s often advisable not to hunt alone. My reader is critical, but generously so: she helps rein in my destructive excesses without dulling them, not because she constrains her praise (quite the opposite, sometimes), but because excesses remains an instinctual understatement. Balancing self-pride with self-loathing is akin to placing a soul and feather on a set of golden scales: you’ll have to keep making adjustments if you want the exercise to work. You’re only done when your prose is as sharp a blade as you are, which is never.

Managing expectations

by MDY

Nobody ever makes the first jump. Only once I finish a paper draft do I begin to edit, proof and format. Paper forces you to not look back. The more you second-guess your words, the more the terrain comes to resemble a battlefield, carved up by the caterpillar-tracks of surreptitious strike-outs and adjectival regret. Word-processing is too much like Teflon. It also tracks your word-count, which is a distraction I can do without alongside chocolate and equestrian flamenco. My first drafts are measured in pages, or hours. If I get fatigued or restless, I remind myself that I’m writing not paratrooper-ing and it’s okay if I don’t make my next checkpoint in time. But I always do.

The first sort is the specific: write these words by this time, so that this person can react this way. Some things aren’t physically possible – I cannot type more than 2500 words in an hour, or do a bench-press – but a surprising majority are. You build up your fitness with exercises and repetition, like with marathons or equestrian flamenco. My first press-release took me 5.2 hours to write. After a while, you can load and aim and fire without breaking a sweat or the surrounding furniture. The other sort is the general. Find true love, look after your health, make responsible choices for the future. You build up to those with time.

The tragedy of Icarus is that his father would’ve loved him no matter what. On the particularly knife-edge days that punctuate most winters, my fingers stiffen up and have difficulty moving – a legacy of youthful novel-writing and flamencos played on oversized xylophones. I’ve learnt to wear gloves and buy clothes with warm pockets, but adaptability runs a distant second to prevention. Blunt trauma forces you to not look back. Making everyone happy is a fool’s goal, especially not since everyone wants to be. Sometimes, the hardest ones to manage are the ones you set yourself.