Cut what scares you.

The music is posted because it captures the mood of the story I’m working on…

But for the novel I’ve finished (sort of finished), an agent asked to see the first 155 pages. Well, I proofread those pages again and fussed with the formatting. On page 155 I looked for the place to stop, and conveniently enough, there was scene break on the page–and the scene ended with a short paragraph that had bothered me since I wrote it.

The scene came to me like any scene comes to any writer–inexplicably and with certainty that’s how it happened–but those few lines made me uneasy. Too bold? Too over the top? Did they make the young man too creepy and the young woman–the protagonist–too passive?

Writing books tell us to tell the truth, cut to the core, be fearless, and other such things to give us courage in the face of the blank page. Writing books warn us of being exploitive, over-the-top, sensational, and other sins. How to tell the difference?

I’ve been accused to the latter. Maybe “accused” is too strong a word, but such a possible sin was brought to my attention.

With that paragraph at the end of 155 pages I couldn’t (can’t) decide if my unease was caused by anxiety or by a subconscious understanding that it was too much.

I’ve been watching Twin Peaks, and David Lynch never seems caught in this way–which is hardly roundly admired for.

Of course, I don’t want the agent to think I’m a creep. I do want the agent to want to read more. Too far? Powerful? Icky? Honest? Then again, aren’t they nothing compared to a thousand other stories in the world? But those requested pages end there. End! The last image in her head.

Maybe this is a bit like asking if a picture of a woman without her clothes is art or porn. You know it when you see it?

After tapping my fingers on my desk for a while and feeling my stomach do loops, I cut the lines.

Still tapping my fingers…


Do you know when you’ve gone too far or when you’re afraid to go far enough?

12 thoughts on “Cut what scares you.

  1. That’s encouraging though, that they asked for 155 pages. An odd number, but still, they asked for pages! So that’s a good sign.

    Think of it this way, whatever you did before was enough for them to like, so you decisions to that point were the right ones. 🙂 Trust yourself.

    1. Usually she asks for 5 pages, but she read those first five in an email. Then she asked me to send a hard copy of the next 150-and she asked me to print out those first five too, which is a convoluted explanation for the 155. Whew.

      Ah, trusting myself…that’s tricky.

  2. This seems to tie in with your post about sharing and rushing to share your work. It can be hard to tease out the difference between what you’re afraid to write, and what you’re afraid to share. You weren’t afraid to write those lines (because after all, there they are) but you were afraid to share them. I find that if I promise myself that my work will be private until I’m ready to share it (by which I mean not until the third draft) then I will take more risks in the writing, and by the third draft or so I’ve gained enough detachment and confidence in the work to be able to make decisions about what is working and what isn’t, and what I’m willing to reveal about the way I see the world.
    But in the end, sometimes you just have to jump one way or the other. I don’t think your work will stand or fall on a few lines- but it was an interesting exercise in learning about who you are, and who you want to be, as a writer, eh?

    1. I can say this isn’t rushing. I’ve been working on this story for…three years, I think. And each time I read that scene I debate those lines, and I’ve taken them out and put them back in….

      One thing I’ve learned is that I’m never ready to share. Everything I’ve shared–story-wise–is an exercise is getting used to sharing. Several years of sharing and everything still breeds doubt. So, sharing stories would be more about me dealing with readers than anything else.

      More exercises in learning about who I am would be good.

  3. The fact that an agent asked for such a big chunk of your manuscript is big news, Marta. I think you should send them to her; and let those images be the last in her head, those lines be the ones she recalls, the ones that will drive her to call you back and comment.

    I’ve never written anything uncomfortable or off-putting to me. I wonder if I can, and how to do that? How to be so … irreverent? of my own inhibitions.

    That you could wins you my admiration and I’d love to see you proceed.

    Whatever you decide, best of luck.

    1. The best way to write something uncomfortable is to be someone uncomfortable with many things. Not really good advise, is it? It takes very little to make me uncomfortable, so that you haven’t written anything that does that for you, well, may just mean you’re less inhibited.

      And thank you, Darc.

  4. I’m not much interested in writing safe. Living safe? yes, that’s very important to me, esp. given past circumstances. But writing safe seems pointless. So, let’s be out on that uncomfortable edge together.

  5. I know that ambivalence well. If you have put it in and out so many times, it probably means it will not make a huge difference if you leave it in or out, in the context of 155 pages. I had a story I couldn’t get published and just finally decided to chop out most of it, make it very short and keep to the essence and it was published right away. Yet I still miss the parts I took out and wonder if I wimped out or maybe it’s just two separate stories.

  6. I think all the advice to “write at the edge” and so on is telling us to take huge gambles on what we know is needed — not to include flash-and-bang for its own sake. I don’t know what passage you’re referring to (but don’t I wish I did? you bet :)), but as long as it’s there because it feels right then maybe it belongs, no matter how over-the-top it might be.

    Maybe your inner voice is telling you that the EXPRESSION of the idea, event, action still needs work? Because the competing inner voice seems to be saying the idea, event, action needs to be there.

    1. Yep. Not going to tell you which bit. 🙂

      In truth, I think the moment is perfectly expressed. It’s the whether-it-should-be aspect I’m worried about.

      1. (Curses. She saw through my evil master plan to pry that passage out of her… She must be the mother of a male-type personage! Which brings me back to my theory that women can read men’s minds, but that they’d never say so.)

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