Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Caught Knapping - Joan Lennon

The older I get, the more I try to learn the art of leaving stuff to one side.  It’s a life skill, all right.  And it’s hard.  And it’s easy to get wrong.  Bruising of various shades of tenderness can ensue.  Just like when knapping.

"Knapping is the shaping of flint, chert, obsidian or other conchoidal fracturing stone through the process of lithic reduction." *

On the way to making a really excellent axe, the knapper has to delete a lot of material.  Skilful bashing produces flakes of varying sizes, from quite substantial, useful for cutting meat or hide, down to those small and slender enough to make into needles and bores.  But, inevitably, there will also be flakes that are useless.  We find them centuries later, cast away in middens and slag heaps.  (Though we can deduce from them that knapping activities took place in the vicinity so, given time and the invention of archaeology, eventually they do have a use.)

As it is with life, and with knapping, so it is, I’m finding more and more, with editing.  The last two books I wrote both stalled near the finish line, for the simple reason that there were things in them that didn’t belong.  Just dancing around making elegant joining-up bits wasn’t enough.  I had to get out my hammer and get lithic-ly reductive.  The potentially-excellent axe was in there – you just couldn’t see it for all the extraneous flint.

Why is editing so hard?  I don't meant technically hard, so much as knocking off bits of your own flesh hard.  (Not that that's something I do all that much, but you know what I mean.)  Is it arrogance?  Short-sightedness?  Being just plain bloody-minded?  

Whatever the reason, here's to getting better at bashing -

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.

* Thank you, Wikipedia.  Phrases like "conchoidal fracturing" and “the process of lithic reduction” just don’t get used as much as they should, I feel.


Sue Purkiss said...

I shall use those phrases regularly from now on. They're going to make all the difference, I'm sure.

skybluepinkish said...

The best (although not at the time) thing that happened to me when I was writing the first draft of my first novel was total computer meltdown and no back up. After tantrums, acrobatic hysterics and a substanstial amount of Anglo Saxon I began again. The second draft was still pretty awful but it taught me to cut. The stuff that didn't belong just never made it back in again.

Stroppy Author said...

Skybluepinkish that is a very interesting result! What a great analogy, Joan. I always think of editing as being like Michelangelo letting the angel out of the stone, but I think yours is better. Why is it hard? All culling is hard. I feel sorry for the little seedlings that get pulled up when thinning out. I think evolution has equipped us to think 'plenty' is a good thing and wanton destruction=waste=bad thing.

Maxine. said...

Murdering the darlings is so painful! I think I need a different head on when I'm editing my work - very much the thinking head, a bit distant from all the emotion that went into writing it.

Joan Lennon said...

Me too, Sue - and I'm really sorely tempted to write the story of a character called Extraneous Flint.

Skybluepinkish - nightmare! As you say, useful in the long run, but ARRGGHHH! There has to be a less painful way!

Stroppy - oh crumbs, and now I'm feeling sorry for seedlings too!

Maxine - swapable heads - good idea!

Susan Price said...

I can always count on you to make me laugh, Joan!
And Skybluepinkish, I think you've hit on a secret there - you only remember the good stuff. Or, put it another way, you can only find the strength to rewrite again from scratch, the good stuff. The stuff that really matters.
I think editing is hard mainly because of the uncertainty - should I really cut this bit and keep that bit? Am I sure? Is my judgement up to par today, or am I making a terrible mistake that I'll regret?