Thursday, October 15, 2009


#288, Chinatown, NYC

"Don't belabor the Fibber's grime."

One hundred and fifty pages into the manuscript, eyesight rapidly deteriorating, caffeinated to perfection, and knee-deep in what my fiction writer's Bible calls "The 10-Percent Solution": today has been a good day.

Nothing pleases me more than sitting down for the very first time with a freshly printed manuscript, a carefully chosen pen, and a cup of coffee. I allude to it in my "About Me" box, but I really do have my moments of Just So, where my entire mental well-being depends upon the careful arrangement of items on a table at a certain time of day at a certain angle in a certain light (to quote Nick Cave quoting everybody else).

I nearly steamrolled some business-suited lady this morning in a panic to claim "my" table by the wall. She, inching intrepidly behind me, wanted the freshly-evacuated table for a business meeting. I had to explain, calmly, that if I didn't sit exactly six inches away from exposed brick with my back to the espresso machines facing out onto the window at a quarter past ten, my brand new Sarasa fuchsia-colored pen parallel to the 300 pieces of paper I had spent the last four years of my life laboring over, that I would probably, and very quickly, lose my sh1t. I didn't say this. When the business-suited lady asked if she could have my table (foolishly attempting to barter it for one of the world's most inauspicious tables ever, the Bermuda Triangle of the morning rush) I said quietly yet firmly, "Sorry. But I was hoping to get some editing done. The light is better here," and sat down. Besides, possession is nine tenths of the law, and the second I saw that table open up, I possessed that table.

What does all of this have to do with my blog, and have to do with numbers? One thing, mainly. Reading through a hundred and fifty pages of my own work, I've had the chance to notice my habits, both good and bad, as a writer. One thing about us scribblers, is we can often fall in love with certain ideas, words, or sentences that somehow feel important. This is good. This is how we write, and get excited about writing, and continue to do so. But when you're in the final revisions of a novel, there is no room for that fluff, filler, and palaver you love so much. You have to be choosy and merciless. If it doesn't serve the story, you cut it.

That is what the 10-Percent Solution is all about (with thanks to Stephen Koch, who penned said Bible). You like something you've written? The odds are it'll be better if it's ten percent shorter. (This current post is a "do as I say, not as I do" anti-example of the 10-Percent Solution. Just so you know.)

All writers have obsessions. I am utterly obsessed with place: scenes, settings, objects, buildings, angles, and architecture. I am, however, also writing a book with a narrator who is not me, and for whom frequent 600 word discourses on pub signs in Dublin is not suitable. One thing that's made the editing process easier is the knowledge that all these "thinky bits", these set pieces, these musings about the world I see around me, can have a home. It's called Ampersand Seven, and yes, it's become a lovely, flexible, Hydra-headed monster, a halfway house for my obsessions, a place to hash it all out and share the love.

A quickly scrawled note in the margin of page 146 reads, in small block fuschia letters: "DON'T BELABOR THE FIBBERS GRIME." It's a reminder for me to come back to the section and cut, eliminate, spindle, and mutilate many of my laborious descriptions of a hygienically-challenged rock club in Dublin I'd frequent as a late teen and in my early twenties. Thickly coated black paint, sticky floors, peeling band stickers: this stuff goes on for pages. It's a good reminder for the novel, but it's also nice to know that, when the urge grows desperate, there is a place to belabor it, a repository for all that obsessive description. And that's here.

I think it was reading Sheila's very funny post today (Don't even TRY, CHiPs!) that got me thinking about the bizarre yet dead-perfect mantras we often -- at times accidentally -- come up with: words of wisdom forged in the hot magma of the moment that says it all perfectly. So for the next few weeks, if you notice a little more unhealthy obsessing over lime rot or serifs here, you'll know why.

"Don't belabor the Fibber's grime." That is all.


GreensboroDailyPhoto said...

I just e-mailed a friend, who is always mindful of quantity of words in writing, encouraging her to read your post today. No need to cut and past a permalink. I just said (10% solution).

"Read 288."

Adam said...

Nice concept. I'll have to remember it! Does your book have a title, and when will we be able to read it?

Therese Cox said...

GDP - Spread the word! My agent was the one who put this book in my hand (it's called the Modern Library's Writers Workshop) and I've used it faithfully ever since. Hope your friend finds it useful.

Adam - Thanks for asking. When there's news, y'all will be some of the first to know. Till then, I will continue being cagey.

Jackie said...

I loved this post. Love the idea of "The 10-Percent Solution" and have the name of the fiction writer's Bible on a post-it on my notebook. I'm so excited for you!!

And I totally know which Starbucks table you mean. I'm a fan, myself. And I need to keep the table as close as possible to me so that the bottom of it is smushed up against the leg of my chair. And then I need to have room for my right elbow to rest on top of the table, my computer angled just to the left. Otherwise, the whole day is a wash.

Radge said...

Great post, Therese. I've been saying that a lot lately and pointing people in your direction. Some fine advice I hadn't heard before, too, despite several abandoned creative writing classes.

I'm stuck on the sticky pub. I'm going with Bruxelles, just off Grafton Street? I'll return on Sunday to see if I'm right. Off to find a watering hole of my own now.

Therese Cox said...

Jac - Damn, girl, we better not ever go there at the same time. 'Cause I will OCD you out the door, g-friend.

Radge - Thanks for that. Am I alone in my memory of the original Fibber Magee's on Parnell Street? I think it still stands - for awhile they renamed it Bacchus - but it may only be a shade of its former self, back in the glory days of the mid- to late-90's. I'm afraid to ever go back and find out.

That said, I do confess to many fine hours spent at Bruxelles - sticky floor and hideous mural and all. Enjoy yer weekend.

Julie said...

What a perfect melding of image and text.