I hate jogging. Hate it. Congrats to all you runners out there—much respect—but I just can’t make myself do it. What I do love is weightlifting. Not the Olympic-style, grunting sort of weightlifting, just me and a couple of free-weights. When I have a really thorny plot problem to work out, I go to the gym, turn up the volume on my iPod, and lift. The harder the problem, the heavier the weights.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been going to the gym a lot, because I’ve been working through some big plot overhauls on my work-in-progress. It ain’t been easy. The manuscript I’m working on was “finished:” It had been through a couple of plot re-writes, then line-edited and copy-edited and polished ad nauseum. I’d labored over the right phrasing for every line in every scene…to me, every word seemed necessary.
But of course, I wasn’t right about that. I got some great feedback (and some distance) and identified the weak spots. Parts of the plot dragged. The pacing needed to be faster, and that meant slicing out thousands and thousands of my beloved words and replacing them with fewer, better ones. Some characters ended up being unnecessary, and I had to cut them out. It hurt. I had to move up to the twelve-pound weights.
It's been painful, but in a good way, like lifting that twelve-pound weight instead of the ten. It hurts, but I know it’s going to make me stronger. If it was easy, if I didn’t break a sweat, then I might be happy for that half-hour workout, but in the end, I’d be right back where I started. Nothing really got done.
It’s important for me not to push it too far, though. Just like in weight-lifting, pain can be telling me something when I’m editing. During my manuscript slaughtering, I ran into a character I just couldn’t cut. It was agonizing. Every time I tried to write scenes without her, they felt flat and boring. I had to stop and ask myself: Is this decision going to make my story better, or just smaller? I suppose I’m learning to walk that line between the good, strengthening ache and the stabbing pain that warns me I’m about to pull a muscle. I want to be right on that border.