Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 3, 2012

Word Count: Adding, Not Subtracting

We who write children’s books are invested in hopeful if not happy endings, but it doesn’t mean we’re not aware that stories can end in other ways. So these past two months, while doing some radical trimming and promising myself the joy of writing the last third of the book as a reward, I had a niggling fear that my reward would take an ironic turn, that my pen would feel heavier than the knife I’d been weilding. I longed to get my character to Europe c. 1870, and reap the pleasure as if I were there myself, minus jet lag (or seasickness) and bills.

My porch isn’t Paris, but I’m having fun in territory that’s familiar, with enough time having passed between drafts that it feels fresh. Those hats laden with feathers! Those gloves with buttons to the elbow! That bread and cheese!  And after all this time with a blade, I’ve got a sense in my bones of wanting to keep things somewhat lean, which makes sense as things stream toward a conclusion. There will be some flooding, conversations that may meander, but I’m doing my best to keep them from circling. I like moving forward, even though, just as in the children’s game of Mother, May I?, there are occasional side steps and giant leaps back. But I’m determined to cross that finish line. Conversations in my mind can look like this: Is it hot on the porch? Yes. Well, you might as well keep writing. Is it not sweltering? Yes. Yay, what a great day to write. 

Sometimes writers have to put in words we’re bound to take out, and the high temps made me less than vigilant. It’s all okay. I know my good writing group will point out sentences and possibly chapters that don’t belong. I won’t be sanguine, though I’ll try not to moan.  And remember that while tearing into my manuscript to pull out digressions and fluff and just general lengthiness, the ragged edges that were left gave me a few new ideas.  The poking made the manuscript feel more stretchy, inviting new thoughts, so I added, and backtracked. Other holes realigned or stayed as they were, giving a smart smack of stopping while I’m ahead. I hope.

Now, should I cut that last sentence? I’m leaving it for now. The great period of second and third guessing will come later. For now I’m enjoying moving forward.  Mother, May I? Yes, you may.


  1. It is HUGE when you have the safety net of your writer’s group. I feel the same way about my writing mentor. I take more chances knowing that more experienced eyes are going to see it and guide me in the right direction. In your case you have peers. What a treasure.

    Can’t wait to read your book! 🙂

  2. Thanks, Susan. You’re right, so great you have a mentor with good eyes, and I’m so very lucky to have three smart, kind people who’ve stuck with me for over twenty years, though they’ve sometimes had to overlook my lack of grace.

  3. What a mysterious and true path you describe!

  4. Someday soon I hope to find a writing group like yours. That’s an adding/subtraction process all on its own.

    • It takes a leap of faith at the beginning, and you’re right, it’s not without its struggle. I may add that the four of us were those who remained after comings and goings during the first five or so years, at which point we decided to shut the door.

      But it’s so beautiful when it happens. I sat nearby as four from the class I taught last fall at the Carle met to critique, and the bars they set for each other as well as essential cheering were thrilling to behold. Even if I was kind of eavesdropping, in a teachery sort of way (everything all right there? yes, absolutely. Okay, now step aside).

      Sometimes you just need one person. Before that group, I responded to a post at the library. And was the only one to respond. But the two of us were in perfect synch (until she moved, pre internet days).

  5. I’ll be joining you soon. After a month off of my WIP, I started rereading my draft and taking copious notes. In a week or two I’ll start rewriting in earnest. RE-WRITING. I’ll need to toss a lot of old stuff out, but I needed this last draft to figure out where the story is going and the journey my characters are meant to take. Glad to join you in this next stage of re-envisioning and re-writing! xoxo Cheering you on!

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