The pain of writing is performing the surgery, as demonstrated by Louisa May Alcott and Jo March

piles of manuscriptOver the past few weeks I wrote the longest piece I have ever written, over 6000 words. Life has been far too busy for my taste lately so I could only work on it in bits and pieces. I have my hour carved out first thing in the morning for writing, beginning with the first cup of coffee. Each morning for three weeks, I pecked away at that piece.

Hardly the vortex experienced by our heroine Louisa, but we all have our own methods!

Experiencing the pain

I’ve read frequently about the pain and suffering involved with writing: the doubts, the writer’s blocks, the editing, the panic. I’ve had my share of blocks (which felt more like vacations away from the work) but I have to admit I had yet to experience true pain and suffering.

Then my 6000+ piece came back from my editor. I had feared in the back of my mind that I might not have written the piece with the kind of thrust my editor wanted.  I was right.

Pulling it all apart

Now I am taking all the pieces apart, reassembling them, and giving it the thrust my editor wanted. I get the pain and suffering. Not because I feel especially attached to this piece but because I am terrible at puzzles! The details can overwhelm me.

How did Louisa
do it?

jan as louisaI always wondered how Louisa was able perform the massive edits on her first novel Moods. It really was like surgery. I have the advantage of word processing which makes it a lot easier to pull things apart while making sure everything is still saved. Louisa had merely the pen and paper. How did she ever do it?

Harriet Reisen described the process:

One sleepless night a scheme to cut Moods suddenly came upon her. “I slept no more that night but worked as busily as if mind & body had nothing to do with one another … The fit was on, & for a fortnight, I hardly ate slept or stirred but wrote, wrote like a thinking machine in full operation. When Louisa emerged from this latest vortex, she had cut ten chapters, sacrificing many of her favorite parts, but she was confident she had strengthened and sharpened as well as shortened the story. Loring [the publisher] agreed and promised to bring out the book right away. “Of course we all had a rapture,” Louisa reported. Louisa May Alcott The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen, Chapter 12, Where Glory Waited

How Jo March describes it

jo writing (norman rockwell)Louisa recounted the process in Little Women as Jo prepared to edit her first-born:

Having copied her novel for the fourth time, read it to all her confidential friends, and submitted it with fear and trembling to three publishers, she at last disposed of it, on condition that she would cut it down one third, and omit all the parts which she particularly admired …

“Now I must either bundle it back in to my tin kitchen to mold, pay for printing it myself, or chop it up to suit purchasers and get what I can for it …” said Jo …

So, with Spartan firmness, the young authoress laid her first-born on her table, and chopped it up as ruthlessly as any ogre. In the hope of pleasing everyone, she took everyone’s advice, and like the old man and his donkey in the fable suited nobody. Little Women, Chapter 27, Literary Lessons

Surgical means

Now that sounds painful. And like surgery. My work is not so dramatic but for the first time, I can truly relate to Louisa, the writer and how she had to hone art into a commercial product for sale.

Pictures-of--Surgical-InstrumentsTo me, the opportunity to work with a professional on my piece is well worth every bit of cutting, shaping, pulling apart and piecing together that it takes to make my art ready for market. Surgery is, after all,  a means of correction, to make something whole and better.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, I have to get back to my puzzle … 🙂

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4 Replies to “The pain of writing is performing the surgery, as demonstrated by Louisa May Alcott and Jo March”

  1. Surgery is always part of the process, though it may make it feel less painful to call it “editing”! It is a great consolation that Louisa and her Jo both suffered through the process just as we are doing today. So did my other favorite author, Jane Austen, who talked about how she “lop’d and crop’d” Pride and Prejudice, which she also referred to as her “darling child.” Good luck with your endeavor.

      1. You certainly are a sister-author (sister to Louisa too) going through the process – but don’t ever forget that the process is also filled with JOY. All the hard work I did in writing a biography, resulted in joys and satisfaction beyond my wildest imaginings, and if you do the work, the joy will both accompany and follow you. Of course, I’m sure that you are also experiencing great joy from this wonderful blog, as you deserve!

      2. Thanks. And you are so right: reading and writing bring me more joy than I ever thought possible. I love it when it is easy and when it is hard too.

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