Is the Baby Still in the Bathtub?

I heard once at a writing seminar that every time we read, it’s an investment in our writing. So in light of that, we shouldn’t feel guilty when we spend our time reading someone else’s writing instead of working on our own.

When I do read someone else’s story, on one level of consciousness I’m processing how they’ve approached its construction and shaped its language, which helps me likewise reflect on my own projects. I still lose myself in the experience of the book, yet today was one of those when I did snap out of someone else’s story-world to reenter my own—because it had just smacked me upside the head, somewhere in the middle of the book I was reading, that I needed to work more on the beginning of the book I am writing. Seemingly out of nowhere, but I think my subconscious has known all along and something I read must have finally dislodged that. Not merely the revelation of what I probably need to do, but my acceptance of it. I think I’ve known for a long while what I should do but have been nurturing my precious poopsies, running the warm water over them and adding more bubble bath.

I’ve only done some cursory restructuring so far, but looks like my manuscript needs to be run like a conveyor belt in reverse again, backing it up another couple chapters to start at even later one. If I do this, I must be mindful of what had happened last time and ensure the babies of characterization and exposition don’t get thrown out with the bath water in the interest of moving plot forward a bit faster. And it really isn’t so much that I’m trying to get a move-on with the story line; the more I look at those opening chapters, the more I realize that I was still finding my way into the story with them; it doesn’t all have to be scratched, but it needs to be tightened through rearranging. So as I try to look at the story elements in those chapters more strategically right now—isolating the “need to haves” from the “nice to haves”—it’s like they’re all lined up before me, beads of sweat glistening at their brows and sweaty palms wringing behind their backs as they try to stand tall, stand proud with chins up but lips quivering, and some surely wetting their pants.

I shall place the little dears in the foster care of my archives and keep faith they’ll find a good home in a short story or other novel some day. Until that time of weaning, I’m letting them push their little rubber duckies through the suds, scrubbing them extra clean behind the ears before tucking them into bed for the night all clean and sweet-smelling and raisin-fingered…who knows, perhaps after I sleep on it, too, I’ll change my mind.

I’m curious to hear about YOUR babies—it’s inevitable that some of them get chucked out the window, but have you actually had success reusing them elsewhere? How so?

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About thefallenmonkey

Primate that dapples in writing when not picking others' fleas or flinging its own poop. View all posts by thefallenmonkey

10 responses to “Is the Baby Still in the Bathtub?

  • Eva

    Ouch, killing those babies really hurts, I can imagine. But then again I can only congratulate you to your decision. You know how personally fond I am of quick entrances, so I am sure this is a good cause.

    So, my experience? I have cut around 30% out of my initial ms over 3 serious rounds of editing. That was 2 years worth of work going out, and I know for sure they will never make it out of the recycling bin. So believe me when I say there was a lot of crying involved. But you know what? It has all made the book more stringent and I know it was worth the sacrifice.

    Am sure as soon as you see the next, more trim version of your chubby baby you will forget about the pain. Maybe you also have the opportunity to incorporate shortened versions of these chapters somewhere else, where appropriate? Otherwise, let them go. Hard but worth it in the end. 🙂

    Good luck!!

    • thefallenmonkey

      Thank you so, so much for this Eva. The empathy helps, especially since it’s made me realize that I probably won’t be cutting anything cry-worthy—if I’d done it months ago? Yes. But I think I’ve achieved enough creative distance finally to see it more clearly for what it is and what it needs to be. It’s obviously worked out well for you, so *deep inhale* wish me luck!

  • Alannah Murphy

    Well, thank goodness reading is meant to be a good thing for writers to do, I do not feel so guilty now that i’ve totally stopped doing anything with my novel. I have come to yet another wall and I cannot deal with climbing it so I’ve turned my back on it and sat near it, reading instead.

    The wall to climb is BIG, it is called “what exactly is my novel about?” you see, I thought I knew, but I don’t really, and I realised that until I can answer the question “What is your novel about” with a good short answer, I cannot do anything further.

    so many bloody walls sigh….

    • thefallenmonkey

      Definitely don’t feel guilty about reading, Alannah! I hit my stages, too, where I just stop with the manuscript and walk away for a while. Reading is what makes me feel less guilty about that. And I grapple with the same dilemma as you are as far as what the story is “about.” I was just revising my query letter and synopsis, and it really is a tough one to distill, at least without giving it all away. And I still question my main character’s growth, whether it’s coming through if even there at all.

      Here’s to both of us climbing those walls eventually. 🙂

  • Milo James Fowler

    Differentiating “need to haves” from the “nice to haves” — that’s where I struggle in revisions. Killing the darlings is never easy!

    • thefallenmonkey

      It’s true, Milo, as sometimes those darlings are what add such flavor to a story and make it a joy to read…stripping it down too far is a definite risk, and I’m terrified making these decisions right now.

  • Tahlia Newland

    Reading others work is really important for exactly the reasons you said. It helps us with our work. Everytime I read a good book I learn what to do and when I read a bad one I learn what not to do. I read one recently that seemed to have no purpose. I thought, what am I wasting my time reading this for? It made me look at my WIP again and ask myself, is there a point here? A good question.

    • thefallenmonkey

      A very good question, Tahlia, and that’s exactly what reading other books prompts for me as well. The book’s intention is usually clear from the beginning, and I’ve had to question whether that is so in my ms, which is why I now think it’s necessary that I revamp it a little.

  • Glen

    everyone says it… read, read, read – oh and never let the Monkey babysit … 🙂

    • thefallenmonkey

      Hey, the Monkey has a way with singing those youngsters to sleep—their favorite part of the lullaby is “when the bough breaks, the monkey will fall, and down will go monkey, feces and all…”

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