Philosophy of Writing – 11 – Concentration

Posted on April 18, 2012 by


Polished and Powdered by EsaoAndrews

“Polished & Powdered” | 24″x 36″ | oil on wood. (2011)
Esao Andrews |

I used to sneak frozen orange syrup. My mother liked her juice watered-down, so the only reason I got in trouble was because I couldn’t open those paper cans without making everything sticky; they had to be thrown away.

Frozen orange concentrate tastes like stars. I can’t eat more than a spoonful.

I was worried that I wouldn’t find much to cut out of my manuscript–and it’s true, I haven’t, not in large chunks. But here and there I noticed redundancies, unnecessary explanation, places where I could twist and tighten. I’m not cutting and reshuffling, I’m evaporating extra water over a gentle flame.

My words almost always benefit from concentration. I do it at every stage of a manuscript–and now, apparently, after the manuscript’s “done”. When I wrote my first post I was expecting notes like “Do away with this character,” “I don’t like this plot point,” “Add more dialogue here”, “Why on earth did you skip that scene?”. My notes are effectively: “It’s beautiful. Tighten it and expand the ending,” which, really, is what I should have expected.

One of my early readers was horrified. I wouldn’t cut one word for someone else, he said.

How much will you do for them? asked another friend. Where do you draw the line?

I’d thought about this a lot. My grandmother’s writing career went nowhere because she refused to make any changes. I won’t write ugly fiction, I said.

My worst fear used to be that my brain operated like a lemonade stand–we’re out now, sorry, no more words–and I clung to my writing as though it were irreplaceable. I wanted to write something that defined my aesthetic tastes, something shining and perfect that embodied everything I was.

I’ve found out some things since then.

  • Ugliness is subjective. I know what it means; it means something else to you.
  • I don’t think works define their artist. My prized treasure isn’t my writing, it’s my writing brain–the intricate machine I keep polishing and tuning. The only thing I should resist is letting it rust.
  • I hope I never make it as big as Haruki Murakami or Stephen King and that I will always have someone telling me difficult things. My words taste better concentrated. I will never fit a novel into three thousand pages; it fits better in three hundred.
  • I like selling out. I ask myself: how can I meet all of these challenges and never write anything ugly?