An interesting story is told about Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird (1960), by biographer, Charles J. Shields in his book, Mockingbird (2006)
(Summary mine) Sometime before publication, Ms. Lee was struggling with revisions. She opened the window of her apartment and flung the manuscript into the darkness. Years of work scattered in the snow. Thankfully, her editor made her retrieve every page.
I wonder how many writers give up months before greatness. I’ve been rewriting my “Precious” for years. Thankfully, a writing coach gave me direction and encouragement, stating, “You have a good draft to work with.” But the learning curve is huge and daunting. I’ve almost hit the delete button more than once. I almost stuffed every year’s hardcopy into the wood burning stove. But I can’t let it go. My bucket list consists of one item: Publish My Book.
Harper’s Lee’s fit encouraged me to understand the, nobody will care anyway, days. So, hang in there another year struggling writer friends.
“Murder Your Darlings,”(On Style, chapter 12) is a quote from Arthur Quiller-Couch’s series of published lectures (On the Art of Writing, 1916) He encouraged writer’s to, “…perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it–wholeheartedly–and delete it before sending your manuscript to press…”
He failed to mention, however, that tapping the delete button would require Hershey Kiss therapy for at least a month.
My “Precious” makes me insane. I have a story in my head. I want to share it with others but it must be planned and structured. Then it must be perfectly formatted, punctuated, and edited or an agent will reject it. Various writing craft books and blogs from our age tout, “Start in the middle of the action…don’t give backstory,” etc.
Therefore, I was surprised and encouraged to realize J.R.R. Tolkien would have trouble publishing The Hobbit in today’s Young Adult market. The first two and a half pages are narrative with long descriptions and backstory. The action begins when Gandalf arrives at Bilbo’s door. The first chapter is an aggravating twelve pages long—funny how I didn’t notice these things at the age of seventeen. It was the first book I ever read on purpose, not school related, and loved. Today’s persnickety set of writing rules would have eliminated the whimsical charm of learning how comfortable a hobbit home is and the important backstory about the adventureless Bagginses.
However, even Tolkien wasn’t completely satisfied with his first edition. From Douglas A. Anderson’s, “Note On The Text”, one learns Tolkien published The Hobbit in 1937. Then in 1951 Tolkien overhauled Chapter V to correspond with his new series, The Lord of the Rings. More revisions came in 1966. Publisher, HarperCollins, revised in 1995.
Perhaps he would revise again if he were living. Many published authors cringe when they look at their books again, wishing to revise. How many famous novels were almost trashed before publication because of the insanity involved in revising?
So, I am encouraged to continue honing my “Precious” another year, protecting it from the fires of Mordor and the delete key.