Cutting apart a zero draft is a lot like butchering one of those mega-poisonous pufferfish for fugu: you must be careful and you must know what you’re doing, or someone’s going to die.
Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But only slight. Having taken a look at my zero draft, trust me: I could kill with this.
There are poisonous parts in a zero draft. Big ones. They have to be excised with care and diligence and, most of all, a steady hand. No second-guessing. No hesitation. Or you’ll nick the poison sack and let it leak out into everything.
But the problem can be spotting those problem areas. Sometimes they’re obvious, sure, but they’re not always circled like the cellulite on a celebrity’s thighs on the cover of one of those terrible magazines.* Sometimes you have to dig deeper, really root around in the guts of that thing, and find the dirty parts.
Which is why I have this:
That, friends and neighbours, is a printed copy of the zero draft of The Patchwork King.** It’s roughly the size of a phone book. And I mean a real fucking phone book; given the size of the town I live in, that translates to about six local phone books. This looks like a Toronto phone book. As I look at it, I can hear all the trees screaming.
But it had to be done. Editing on screen is something I can do with smaller works, but not for this. I tried. Ended up skimming and skipping too much. I was leaving too much poison in, and that ain’t going to work. So, hence the phone book.
I’m going old-school on this one. I’ve got a pack of red pens all lined up. And fire pit, just in case it doesn’t go well. It’s calling for a blizzard tomorrow, so it might be a good chance to go Donner Party on it. Brutal, maybe. But that’s the way it goes. Sometimes you have to get your hands on something in meatspace. Sometimes you have to drag it out back and beat it with a tire iron until it works or dies.
Get a good look at it now, sitting there all pristine and pretty, wrapped up with rubber bands. The next time you see it, it’s going to be bleeding red ink and infested with post-it flags, dangling add-in notes like partially severed limbs.
It’s going to be a good weekend.
*If the people who publish those ever get a crippling case of honesty, they’ll retitle them things like Feeling Bad About Yourself and Being A Judgemental Voyeuristic Dick.
**Well, most of it. This does not count the 30,000 words I’ve already cut. That’s right: it was bigger.