Tuesday, March 15, 2016

14 Notes to Myself Prior to Entering the Cave of Rewrite

1.  You are about to enter a hole in your imagination. It is cold and it is very dark. Do not be frightened. Take a moment to let your eyes adjust, then walk forward into the black unknown.

2.  There is only one way in (starting the rewrite) and one way out (the finished draft). Do not stop until you’ve groped your way back to the light.

3.  Your manuscript currently stands at 52,000 words. You must read each and every one of those words, weigh their merits, and decide their fate: go free or bow before the guillotine.

4.  Kill your darlings. Feel no guilt.

5.  You can do this. You have planned for this time. You have worked on the manuscript, this novel and these characters for nearly three years. You have created, you have destroyed, you have molded, you have smashed, you have plumped and fluffed, you have gouged. It is about time you were done with this book. You cannot wait to send this book out into the world. But you must wait. This book of yours is not quite ready. In this ink-black cave, you must locate its heart and squeeze…squeeze…squeeze until it beats to your rhythm. Then and only then, it might be ready. Might, maybe, perhaps.

6.  Embrace this time. You have taken leave from the Day Job in order to do this work. This is serious stuff. You hoard your leave days like they were a measured number of breaths left in your oxygen tank. You save your time off for when you’ll really need it: your daughter’s wedding in May, and that someday-we’ll-honest-to-God-do-it trip to Italy with your wife. Do not waste this week. Embrace these hours like they were a lover you want to take to bed.

7.  Banish doubt. Forbid the following phrases to play on a rewind loop in your head: “sophomore novel curse,” “nice try, no cigar,” and “we waited five years for this?” This book will be nothing like the first one you published, and that’s okay. Artists change, evolve, improve.

8.  And if this one sucks, then you just try again with the next book. Fail better.

9.  Go deaf and blind to distractions: the internet, that painful cut on your thumb swaddled in Band-Aids, your wife clattering dishes downstairs, cats leaping into your lap, the internet, the thoroughly-engrossing book you’re halfway through reading, birdsong outside your window, the internet, something somebody said to you two weeks ago which now pops back into your brain, thirst, hunger, that bottle of wine chilling in the refrigerator, your bladder, the internet, the internet, the internet.

10.  The title of your novel is Braver Deeds. Let that serve as a motto for this revision process.

11.  Do not look down. You’re at a high enough elevation from the page to get that ticklish, heebie-jeebie feeling in your gut. Keep staring straight ahead toward the next sentence.

12.  But if you do look down, imagine you are a farmer and this page is a field. Your pen is a plow sinking into the soil, dark as coffee grounds, cutting a wake through the sentences. Watch the earth curl away from the plow-blade; if you see a rock boil up from below, stop and put it in your pocket; it could turn out to be a gem.

13.  Remember why you started this book three years ago: you cared about these characters. Do not let them down.

14.  It’s hard to see in this cave—you are afraid of tripping, tumbling into a chasm—but march forward, brother, march forward. There is a light ahead. It’s just a pinprick now, but it will grow bigger. Keep walking toward it.


  1. Such great and useful points for all writers worth their beans. I would add: pay attention to the little singing birds that seem happier when they're left on the page after sentences and even paragraphs have been peeled away. Those birds are telling you it's okay and meant to be. They are more than enough.

  2. This is so stinking great. Thanks for sharing the notes to yourself, which--at least for me--are always the most honest (and the ones I am least likely to share!). Your directions to yourself resonate very much with me. Good stuff.

  3. #12, David. Just beautiful. You can do it!