The Common Sense Page from My Brain

The ink is my pen is frozen and so are the keys on my keyboard. Really! It’s true!

Okay. Really, nothing is wrong with the ink or the keyboard. The problem is in my head.

One or two of you may know that a while ago an agent asked to see some pages of my novel. Very exciting, of course.

A few email exchanges and I like said agent. So far, so good.

Agent tells me that the beginning doesn’t pull. What do you think?

Hmm. It isn’t that I dislike those first chapters, but I know the rest of the book, and I know–in my papery, inky, obsessed book-shaped heart–that the first few chapters do not really have much to do with the rest of the story.

I’ll rewrite the beginning. Would that be okay?

The agent agrees to look at the whole novel when I’m done with my edits.

So further, so better. Maybe.

Now the ink won’t move. I know the beginning may not pull a reader in. But I don’t know what worked either. What am I cutting? What should I keep? What was likable enough to keep this conversation going? I’ll read the rest. Then something was okay with it or why bother?

But what?

I cut a few things. I changed a scene.

Have I made it worse?

Someone has torn the common sense page from my brain.

What isn’t missing is the page explaining everything a writer can do wrong. That page is duplicated a thousand times.

Here is an agent willing to talk to me, and my spine cracks under the pressure.


9 thoughts on “The Common Sense Page from My Brain

  1. If you truly are frozen, one idea may be to use the shotgun method. Rewrite the first chapter a few different ways, perhaps wildly different than you would have liked. Maybe something will come of it. Better than nothing, right? Best of luck to you. It sounds stressful.

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts.

    1. Thank you, D. It probably doesn’t need to be as stressful as I make it to be. I seem to be wired for the automatic stress reaction. And I’ve got one new version of the beginning…we’ll see.

  2. I just started reading what seems like a very good book, called The War of Art. (Had to read the title a couple times myself before I caught on.) It’s by one Steven Pressfield, who is himself a successful writer of historical fiction (his Amazon page), but it’s one of those writer’s-advice books which applies (or is meant to) to other creative types, too.

    The basic premise is that we’re all called to do things which ask more of us than is “natural,” and writers/artists/etc. specifically have a calling to create things — books or stories or whatever. We encounter many obstacles along the way to producing a final, complete “thing.” He calls that “thing,” collectively, Resistance. The book sets out to describe Resistance almost as an entity against whom we have to wage an internal battle, pretty much constantly, as long as we’re creating new things.

    The book is broken up into three sections: one on the nature of Resistance, one on how to fight it, and one on what comes next. (I gather from the foreword, by Robert McKee, that the last one is a little mystical. But I never mind a little mysticism in my self-help. :))

    The martial image can be a little off-putting but as a metaphor I like “the war of art” very much. (Again, so far.)

    I don’t know what proportion of what the agent read constitutes “the beginning.” Is it an opening scene? A whole chapter? Three chapters?

    Reason I ask is, one of my own biggest problems is that I tend to write my way into a story when I first start it. Before actually starting to write I have no idea how to get from step A to step M (or whatever). Along the way to M, I make a lot of detours — dragging the reader with me. So sometimes a good mental exercise is to imagine, before actually cutting anything, how much I could get away with cutting. Like cutting is almost the goal. Can I cut everything up to M? No? Suppose I back up to L? Still too much? And so on.

    …which makes it easier to actually cut, when the time comes: cutting anything less than all of A through L seems like I’ve salvaged something. 🙂

    1. Whoops — Pressfield doesn’t call the “thing” Resistance. He calls the obstacles to creating the “thing” Resistance.

      That comment clearly demonstrates the dangers of cutting too much, haha.

    2. Let me know how the rest of the read goes. Sounds good though.

      And I’m not even sure what the beginning is. She read about 150 pages…but for all I know she meant the first page or all 150 pages. But I’ve made a big cut which is requiring a lot of changes throughout. You know how that goes. I’d be hard pressed to tell you how much I’ve cut and rewritten already. The novel is very different from how it started. And some scenes have been rewritten…I don’t even know. I’ve lost count. And I may have cut the part that worked… ack. Whatever. They are just words. I need perspective.

  3. I wish I had the magic formula and I’d email it to you. Shoot, I might even drive down there and hand it to you, because if I had the magic formula it would be that important. When I was in this stage I had similar cutting to do, right at the beginning. What I ended up doing was cutting the first three chapters completely, and moving the necessary essence to a flashback later. I never really liked the way it turned out, but the cut did land an agent. I think I could have found a better way to do it, though. Only problem is, that’s something you don’t know till after it’s done. And of course, there’s not one right way to fix such a thing.

    In any case, I wish you luck.

    1. Thank you, Sherri. Nice to hear of someone else’s experience. I had this momentary feeling that I was something akin to a surgeon, but instead of making the right life-saving incision, I’d sliced the main valve to the heart killing the patient. Maybe it isn’t as bad as I think. Well, few things are as bad as I think.

      Thanks again. You are a sweetheart. And I wish you a world plus two good of luck.

  4. I can’t even begin to imagine what it takes to write a novel, so this comment is highly presumptuous, but it made me think about a short story of mine in which I had woven several themes, trying to make it complex, but only ended up making it meandering. One day, years later, after I’d written a zillion flash fictions, I decided to just take one theme, the essence of the story, and sent it to a flash fiction journal and it was immediately published. I still feel kind of bad about the cuts, but I think there is a whole different story there, as I am into short-short writing. But I know that the criticism of my longer stories was always that the story actually started in the middle, and that was unfailingly true, and when I could let go of the beginning, I had my story.

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