Saturday, January 15, 2011

If you show me yours, I'll show you mine.

What a treat, last night, the kind of joyful event only a writer would appreciate: a mutual editing session. Mr. Choy brought over 25 pages of the manuscript of his new novel, and I printed 25 pages of the latest incarnation of my memoir. We sat in different rooms with pencils scribbling and scratching, inspecting each other's hearts, brains and guts.

As usual, he is able to see, in my work, exactly what is wrong. In this instance, that I was starting in the wrong place. Start before the big change, he said, so we know what the change means. The irony is that the last draft started where he thought this one should, before the big change - and when he read that draft, he found the beginning flat and tedious and said I should cut it because there was no tension.

But he is right. I do understand exactly what's wrong and how to fix it. It just means beginning again. I went through my Documents files last night, to find at least a dozen different versions of the same story, different titles, voices, trajectories, going back to 1999. Ah well - the last book took me 25 years to finish and get published. This one has only taken eleven, so far.

And as for his work - his writing is so crystalline and gorgeous, it's hard to look beneath and see what doesn't work, but there were a few things, which he was happy to acknowledge. So we parted, with fresh insight and new resolve.

Once, just once, all writers would like an editor to read a manuscript and say, "It's the most brilliant writing ever. Don't touch a word." I wonder if this has ever, in the history of the world, happened.

More snow out there. A lot of snow. A vast landscape of snow. Inside, the furnace rumbles, the cat snores, the fingers patter on the keys.

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