Dry November: Day 28

November 28, 2019

An exceptional day, in several ways, at the Royal Geographical Society. I haven’t the time to say all I need to say, so I’ll leave you a section of Stephen King’s On Writing, which you may well know, but this is how this week has felt.

When you come to the correct evening (which you well may have marked on your office calendar), take your manuscript out of the drawer. If it looks like an alien relic bought at a junk-shop or yard sale where you can hardly remember stopping, you’re ready. Sit down with your door shut (you’ll be opening it to the world soon enough), a pencil in your hand, and a legal pad by your side. Then read your manuscript over.

Do it all in one sitting, if that’s possible (it won’t be, of course, if your book is a four- or five-hundred-pager). Make all the notes you want, but concentrate on the mundane housekeeping jobs, like fixing misspellings and picking up inconsistencies. There’ll be plenty; only God gets it right the first time and only a slob says, “Oh well, let it go, that’s what copyeditors are for.”

If you’ve never done it before, you’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognize it as yours, even be able to remember what tune was on the stereo when you wrote certain lines, and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin, perhaps. This is the way it should be, the reason you waited. It’s always easier to kill someone else’s darlings than it is to kill your own.

With six weeks’ worth of recuperation time, you’ll also be able to see any glaring holes in the plot or character development. I’m talking about holes big enough to drive a truck through. It’s amazing how some of these things can elude the writer while he or she is occupied with the daily work of composition. And listen—if you spot a few of these big holes, you are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself. Screw-ups happen to the best of us. There’s a story that the architect of the Flatiron Building committed suicide when he realized, just before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, that he had neglected to put any men’s rooms in his prototypical skyscraper. Probably not true, but remember this: someone really did design the Titanic and then label it unsinkable.

Bryan Kam

I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter or see more here.