My book is a mix of blogs and narrative. Most of the blog entries are poetry (similar to Ellen Hopkins’ writing). I love poetry, especially American poets from the 20th century. One of my favorite poems is called “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop. She talks about loss and how it affects a person. The first line states, “The art of losing isn’t hard to master.” Bishop goes on to say how you “lose something everyday” and learn to “accept” these loses. She states that losing things “isn’t hard to master.”
I agree that losing little things is easy to do. After all, my mind is constantly jumbled and I often forget where I put things (I once found missing a bag of tomatoes in the freezer and a book sitting soggy outside under the cushion of a lawn chair.).
But if you read further in the poem, you’ll understand that there are big things that are lost also (for her it was her country, essentially her identify). These things can impact a person; they are major loses.
I wonder if Elizabeth’s view on loss holds true to writers too. When a writer starts to revise, do they get used to the loss of their words? What happens when you have to lose something in your writing? How do you cope with cutting out major passages, characters or conflicts? Do you ever learn to “accept” losing these parts?
There’s no denying that writing is a long long long process. I’ve done countless revisions to my work, and a large part of the completed manuscript right now is significantly different from the first drafts. I know my book is a lot stronger now. I know the story is better, the plot tighter, the pace quicker. All of my revisions have only helped my book, but that doesn’t mean it was easy.
There are lots of things I’ve cut out of Canary that I miss. I’ve realized now, though, that a lot of it was back story, and while it was important for me as a way to develop my story, my message comes out just as easily without the information. Still, breaking up is hard to do! Even now, as I go through the revision process with my agent, I find it difficult to revise some of the areas that she has pointed out. You spend so much time working on you book and grow attach to it, it becomes hard to throw that hard work away.
What do you think? Is it hard for you to let go of pieces of your book? Or are you a heart breaker and attack your book with a blood red pen? What about those passages that got away? Are there any you can share either as a passage or in summary?
So to celebrate the art of losing, here is my old beginning to Canary. I admit it, it had too much exposition. My new beginning is awesome now. It's so much better. It starts in the middle of the action and conflict. I like it more, but I think it’s also important to mourn those lines that we lost…right?!
R.I.P. Canary Beginning:
MY EARLY life was measured in basketballs. From the day I was born, when I was placed in a yellow, black and white Pacers uniform to fit my itty bitty baby body, I was surrounded by the sport. My older brother was the opposite of what my father had expected from a son. Brett was weak and jaundiced as a baby, quiet and reserved as a toddler, choosing to sit in a corner and color instead of swinging a wiffle ball bat in the backyard, squirming and uninterested in the basketball games my father took him to, crying when he tried to get him to sit still and watch playoff games on the television. My mom, almost enthusiastic of my brother’s lack of interest in the sport, took my brother to be hers, coddling him and taking him on trips to the aquarium or zoo, quiet activities in which he reveled, probably glad to get away from the noise and racket my father and I made together.
On the other hand, I seemed destined to fulfill the void my brother had left.
My father turned to me as his next basketball phenom, regardless of the fact that I was a girl. It seemed almost as if to make up for his loss with Brett, that he had willed me to be a basketball player from the day I was born. He bragged about my length. I grew rapidly, surpassing both the average height for boys and girls in my age group on the growth charts at the doctor’s office. He told everyone around us that I would be a future basketball star. Photo albums traced birthdays where cakes in the shape of big orange balls were placed in front of me, and my dad would tell the story over and over again of when I spilled trying to drink from my sippy cup, joking that I was “dribbling.” A mobile of basketballs over my bed spun me to sleep every night and vacations did not consist of humid days getting covered in sand on the beach or donning Mickey Mouse ears and running around the Magic Kingdom. Instead, vacations were scheduled around the games my dad coached so he could work to accomplish his goal of seeing every NBA team play in their home arena, toting me along with him, building my collection of team tee-shirts.
Whether we liked it or not, Brett and I grew up surrounded by basketball. My mom took me, and dragged my brother, to all the basketball games my dad coached, home and away if they weren’t too far. She would sit knitting, keeping one eye on the game and one on me, my brother curled next to my mom playing on his Game Boy or stuffing his mouth full of candy, uninterested, complaining about when we could leave. I’d sit on the bleachers shaking the pom-poms my dad had given me or making my Barbies prance around to the chants of the high school football students who surrounded us. My dad would come over during half time to quickly planting kisses on our heads, reminding me of the future when I would be playing for the high school girls’ team.
My father’s self-fulfilling prophecies started to come true as I grew taller and taller. I seemed to sprout inches overnight as I slept, always claiming the front of the line when we had to line up by height for school pictures. I bypassed girls by a whole foot and towered over most of the boys too. Along with my height came natural athletic skills. I was chosen first for kickball games and pegged a tomboy. I ruled the basketball court and my dad would slap me on the back smiling and letting everyone know that I was his daughter. I practiced basketball alongside my dad every night in the driveway. The two of us played until the sun went down and my mom would yell at us to stop making a racket with the ball, the neighbors were trying to sleep. The relationship between my dad and me grew with each basket I made.