If I cut my hair my manuscript will fit into a book
On October 25, 2016, which coincidentally was also my 27th birthday, I started revising my book, Age of Agility. The night before on the 24th I received the first round of comments from the publisher. These were not your basic copy edits that corrected a few Oxford commas and a missing word forgotten in the heat of the writing flow state, but full blown red-pen-college-freshman-comp-essay revision suggestions written in thick blocky comment bubbles. The book I poured not days but months into writing was cut, rearranged, and inked with advice to reconstruct chapters and rewrite entire paragraphs at a time. That’s when I decided to cut my hair.
It might be a Pacific Northwest thing? When I dropped out of school in Michigan and moved to Seattle to learn the writing trade(1), I met a lot of experienced writers who shared their revision process with me. Some of them invited me into their world while they were publishing and the one tradition that was common among them all was cutting their hair. After a manuscript was complete, they gathered up all the feedback from friends, mentors, agent and/or publisher, and borrowed someone’s friend’s roommate’s hair trimmers or shears. With a bottle of wine in hand, a slightly more sober friend would cut off all the hair they grew during their months or years of writing their manuscript. As a metaphor, it works like this: cutting your hair represents the death of the past and rebirth through regeneration. Getting rid of your hair gives you the freedom to make cuts to your manuscript. Up late one night struggling with a chapter after leaving some darlings(2) on the chopping block, I caught myself scratching my nearly bald head. Suddenly I noticed that the hair stuck out past my fingers. It was growing! The pieces were coming together.
In many cases, rewriting and revising is just as hard as writing the initial manuscript. I faced an overwhelming amount of comments and red pen but it was all for the best. When I stopped taking the comments personally, I realized the revision comments were only there to help and they pushed me to see the book from the reader’s perspective, a perspective that had been lost during months of laser-focused writing.
Writing Age of Agility is the most humbling thing I have ever done. I am looking forward to it’s release on January 9, 2017, and I am excited to start drafting my next book.
BOOKS CURRENTLY NEXT TO ME ON MY DESK
Thinner by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)
Holy Bible (courtesy of my Madison, Wisconsin hotel room...thanks The Gideons)
One last piece of good news. I found out tonight that the pre-order for the paperback opened on Amazon. If you want to save some money and read a digital copy, the e-books will be priced at $4.99.
1. Actors go to New York or Los Angeles to develop their craft (or so I'm told by people who identify as actors). Writers go to Portland, OR or Seattle, WA. The PNW has a thriving writing and literary scene and we stand on the shoulders of Richard Hugo, Raymond Carver, Tom Spanbauer, Tom Robbins, Katherine Dunn, Ken Kesey, Richard Brautigan, Ursula K. Le Guin, Tobias Wolff, and many many many more. Not to mention these recent stars: Chuck Palahniuk, Cheryl Strayed, Charles Burns, Chelsea Cain, Lidia Yuknavitch, Monica Drake, Sherman Alexie, name drop, name drop, name drop…..Garth Stein...name drop...it’s a disease, I can’t help it. See also: Seattle7, Hugo House, Seattle City of Literature. Also, also: fantagraphics, PNWA.
2. The phrase “kill your darlings” is commonly used in revision. Often attributed to William Faulkner (although some say Anton Chekhov said something like it first), it means that as a writer you have to remove pieces of your writing that you spent a lot of time, energy, and love on in order for the book/story/blog post/essay to be successful. In the screenwriting book, Save the Cat, the author updated the expression to: “kill your babies.”