Writing is a Business

Guest post
by JM Leitch

First of all, I must tell you up front that this article doesn’t contain strategies about how writers can market their books. It literally means writing – the actual words on the page – and I’m hoping it will serve as a reminder of something important that I, and many other writers, often forget!

Every now and then throughout my life, a tiny, nagging voice coming from some remote and forgotten recess in my brain used to tell me that I should write a book. On three occasions I nearly gave in (I’ve started two novels over the years and one self-help book back in the day when there weren’t so many on the shelves and may have stood a chance of getting noticed!). But after I moved to the beautiful Island of the Gods and writers’ sanctuary that is Bali, with no ‘proper’ job, a daughter in school all day, a husband working away from home over half the year and an idea, I ran out of excuses to give this pesky, persistent little voice.

It was ‘now or never’… and I had never wanted it to be ‘never’… so ‘now’ it was. It was time, in the immortal words of the brand giant Nike, to ‘just do it’.

So, fired by passion for my idea and fuelled by the determination to at least finish one book in my lifetime, I sat at my computer every spare moment getting my story out, and completed a new draft annually over a period of seven and a half years (yes… it is a big book!).

Here is an excerpt taken from the sixth draft, a scene where two of the main characters are taking a romantic break in, of course, Bali.

“‘This is the most wonderful holiday I have ever had.’

Rebecca, hair gathered up in a ponytail, was rubbing sun cream onto her midriff. Her blonde hair had been bleached even blonder after eleven days of sunshine and her body gleamed a golden brown.

Lying on a sun lounger next to her Carlos opened one eye. ‘You smell like piña colada,’ he said and she laughed.

She stared over the rippling pool, across emerald rice fields and into the distance. ‘It’s so clear today. Look! The mountains. That’s Mount Agung.’ The outline of the highest mountain in Bali and home to the island’s most important temple soared in sharp focus. Deep valleys gouged its sides with menacing grey shadows. After the storm that had broken in the middle of the night with a crash thundering through their chests and lightening bolts electrifying their vision, the leaf-scented rain had washed the sky clean and left it a cloudless cornflower blue.

Rebecca sighed. ‘Carlos. I don’t want this holiday to end.’

‘We’ve still got two nights in Nusa Lembongan on the cliff top,’ he said.

‘It’s not enough. I want it to go on forever.’

He smiled at her. ‘You look beautiful. Come over here,’ and he held out his arm.

She shaded her eyes and squinted at him. ‘I love you, you know. I love you so much,’ and his image blurred as tears filled her eyes and she knelt down on the grass between their chairs to kiss him on the lips. They were sun-warmed and tasted of salt.”

I still quite like this passage. It’s descriptive, it touches on all five senses, and I like the alliteration at the end. It took me bloody hours to write, re-write and edit to get it sounding halfway decent. But if you look for it in my book, you won’t find it. Why? Well, for a start it’s not as good as the rose coloured specs I viewed it through after working and re-working it for so long led me to believe. But as important as this, it’s because it doesn’t add meaning to the story, it doesn’t further the plot, and it doesn’t reveal anything more about the characters than the reader already knows.

What it does, however, is to slow down the narrative: not a good thing for a wanna-be page-turning thriller. Readers wouldn’t be happy – and if they’re not happy they won’t recommend it. To have kept that passage in would have been plain bad business sense, which is why it, and countless others that were pretty and had been time consuming to write but were pure self-indulgence on my part, had to go.

‘Murder your darlings’, as Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch famously said (or, was it Nabakov, or Fitzgerald, or Faulkner, or Stephen King?). This is sound advice that we writers should not forget. So don’t ‘um’ and ‘ah’ about cutting your favourite phrases, sentences, paragraphs, sections, or even chapters. If they don’t pass the acid test press the ‘delete’ key.

And remember, the underlying purpose isn’t to reduce the word count or to cut out words that don’t further the plot, those reasons are window dressing. The bottom line is, if you don’t do it, you will limit your readership, and considering all the time and effort you’ve put into writing your book that would be a crying shame.

Writing is a business.

J M Leitch was born just outside London, England, and moved to Asia where she’s lived half her life. She now spends her time between Singapore, Assam in North East India, Bali in Indonesia and the UK. She published my first novel in 2011, The Zul Enigma (www.thezulenigma.com).

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16 thoughts on “Writing is a Business”

  1. If I can’t manage to be that brutally honest with myself, luckily enough, I have an editor in whom I trust and can take that kind blunt, rectitude from; so much so I married her.

    Excellent post, JM.

  2. I have a huge folder on my hard drive called ‘Outtakes’. I’ve only re-used a few short paragraphs out of all that verbiage but they made keeping the rest worthwhile. It’s also nice to go on a nostalgia trip every now and then. 🙂

    1. I wish I’d done that earlier. A friend told me that with MS Word one could compare two documents, so I thought I’d do that after I did my BIG ruthless edit… but for some reason I couldn’t get it to work! That will teach me to think!

  3. Very good article.
    I just threw out four great scenes in my last book, and like you, I am now wishing I had kept them as out takes. Why didn’t I use my brain?
    Good luck with the writing. 🙂

    1. I seem to have missed replying!! So sorry. But a very belated thank you for your comment, ladies. (Although I have a vague feeling that perhaps I did reply somewhere else? Twitter perhaps. Is that even possible?!

  4. Having sat in your beautiful Bali garden while you were writing – I identify with your descriptions and hours of writing. Thanks for the tips in your article,I will pass them onto Tia my 12 year old grandaughter, who is writing her first novel.

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