Monday Blog – Whittle Up

Monday Blog – Whittle Up


I might write four lines or I might write twenty. I subtract and I add until I really hit something I want to do. You don’t always whittle down. Sometimes you whittle up. – Grace Paley, American Short Story Writer/Poet

This week I touched base with my editor and am expecting the first round of edits to “FantasticLand”, my first novel, by the end of the month. What that means is the excitement I feel in kicking off my “writing career” is on hold for a few more weeks, which is cool. These things take time, I get it. What’s nice about waiting a bit is I can spend some time working on another piece that I’m going to be vague about for now, but that has given me some fits recently.

I’m a discovery writer, which means I may have a map of how things are going to turn out in my head, but when I sit down to write I’m just as likely to throw the plan out the window as I am to follow it. This allows for improvisation and, well, discovery. Some of the best moments I’ve had since I started writing fiction was hunched over my lap top, coming up with something really fun or grisly or that tied the story together in ways hadn’t anticipated and writing as fast as I could to get it down while the idea was there. I let one of my friends read “FantasticLand” as I finished with chapters (Hi Steph!) and she expressed frustration that the end of the book she was reading was still locked in my head. It made me feel like an evil genius.

But this second book I’m working on is a bit more traditional in structure and I’m finding myself in a different situation. I’m still struck with inspiration on occasion and but I’m working toward an ending that I’m really looking forward to writing. The more I write, the more moving parts there are in getting to that ending, the practical effect of which is two-fold.

  • I’m having to plan more.
  • I have to go back and fix many more things than I did with my first book.

Everything you change in a story has ripple effects, obviously, but the ripples I’m sending through this current book are forcing radical changes in what I’ve already written and I’m working hard to balance making progress on the damn thing and editing as I go. I was frustrated about this process until @writingadvice posted the above quote by Grace Paley and the phrase “whittle up” slammed into my skull at high speed. What a lovely concept. It’s nice to know other writers experience this idea that you need to build something piece by piece and sometimes those pieces fall over and your only option is to keep going.

It’s a beautiful idea that you build, bit by bit, block by block, instead of whole sale taking away. As I get into the “editing process,” whatever that ends up being (I’m new to all this stuff), I’m sure the time will come when I have to kill some stuff that gave me that thrill when it poured out of my head as I was writing. I’m not super precious about this stuff (I’m telling stories after all),  but it’s fun to be tackling the antithesis at the same time.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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