Life drew me away from my new blog longer than expected. But I’m back. Here on the farm, so are the elk. My son-in-law Robin did his photographer’s magic on these, giving a sense of the wildness of this place and the wonderful creatures that share it with us. In my latest book I describe a brief experience of my own with the elk that roam through this land.
During a good part of my absence from the blog I was busy cutting words on that book, Two Women Across Time. This memoir was too long for its market at 112,320 words. I needed to get it down to 90,000. A major task. How could I do that without damaging the story? In order to maintain the book’s integrity and color, I couldn’t axe it. I had to use a scalpel.
What about that description of my experience with the elk? Just one paragraph. I was trying to cut everything that didn’t move the story forward. Was that short segment vital? I had to be ruthless. I cut it. Then put it back. Cut it again. I asked myself what it did for the book. Discussed it with readers.
Chapters alternate between my perspective and my Grandmother Martha’s. Each of mine opens in one special place on the farm. The next chapter from Martha’s perspective opens in that same place. The farm is what binds the two of us together. And it binds these two parts of the book together. In a sense the farm becomes a character in the book, and I try to develop that character, as I would any human character, so the reader will know it better.
But I had to get the word count down.
In the cutting process I did global searches of filler words and chopped them (thanks to Debbie Burke from one of my Montana critique groups for that suggestion). I discovered a few wordy habits of mine that I’d never noticed before. Cut words there. I slashed several scenes that were better summarized. Proceeding through the book’s pages, I began cutting phrases and sentences more ruthlessly because the words weren’t dropping fast enough. I was getting too close to the end with too many words left. I came to a scene that didn’t read well. I couldn’t get the language to work for me, and in a burst of inspiration realized this was one more I could summarize and I wouldn’t have to edit the pesky language. Snip. 580 words. I was going to make it.
As I watched the words fall away I wondered if I could save the elk segment. If I could cut enough maybe I could bring it back. I calculated what I needed. Continuing toward the end, I kept watching the numbers at the lower left of my Word document. Closer. Closer. Finally. I was there. I had cut enough. The elk were back. And yes, I think they belong in the story. They are a part of the character of the farm. Part of the essence of our story.
I’m happy to say I cut more than 22,000 words. The book is now less than 90,000 and it’s better than it was before. Tighter. Fewer redundant scenes. The color and integrity remain. And the elk.
A couple of days ago I walked up the hill from my house, up to the highest point on the property. There I can look down the steep slope on the far side to the river as it snakes its way around the hills on its way to the ocean. One tall snag rises up from that sharp incline, a favorite perch of bald eagles. When I came in sight of the snag I saw one of the mighty birds resting on a scraggy branch. I raised my arms in greeting. It turned its gleaming white head to look at me, then flew, long wings flapping in near slow motion as it ventured out across the gorge. On my way back down the hill I stopped and smiled. A herd of elk grazed near the tree-lined crest above my house. That eagle and these elk were the first I’d seen in many months. I had the strongest feeling all was right with the world.
I’ve had a few elk encounters since moving back to the farm, and I’ll share one or two later that didn’t make it into the book. For now, just letting you know we’re back.
Janet: Good to hear from you. Your description of the property and the wildlife sounds like you have found your bit of heaven as Kathy and I did here in Montana.
The cutting is difficult and each cut scene is like losing a friend. I remember when our critique group convinced me to kill off a character. . . very difficult. You become attached.
Your writing, even in your blog, as always is smooth and eloquent.
Thanks, David. Fortunately I didn’t have to give up any characters to get to the 90K, just some of their scenes.
When will I be able to read the book? I hope you kept the longer version. Some parts probably may be repetitious and unnecessary, but I feel it’s unfortunate that the author has to cut out some parts that may be important to her, but have to be sacrificed for the sake of meeting a market size. Success with your seeing this in print soon.
I did keep the longer version, but the strange thing is, when I contemplate what I might put back in, there isn’t much I would. Most of the scenes I took out had some problem or other. You know that little niggling feeling you have sometimes that something isn’t quite right but you tell yourself it’s okay? Well, I had that feeling in so many of those scenes. The last one I cut, for example, was much more powerful in summary in the next chapter. That said, a few scenes offer interesting information that I’ll probably present on this blog or in my website after the book is out, when it would be more meaningful to someone who’s already read it. As for when it will come out, I don’t know yet. I’ll let you know when I have a better idea.
Lovely photo and lovely words to accompany it. You are in a little piece of heaven.
Glad you “made the cut.” And glad my tip helped.
Thank you, Debbie. I feel very fortunate to live here and to have my family with me.
Lovely picture of the elk!! And congratulations on paring down your story. I know how much work that can be! Good luck with submitting and publishing!
Thank you for your good wishes, Heidi.
I’m glad the elk are back in the book. They are so much a part of the rural ranch living that we have enjoyed in the Elkton area.
Hi Carol. I hope they get to stay. With all the revisions the book is still shifting here and there, but so far the elk are in.