I've been working with Mr. Harris for the past three years to help educate our local writers and to hone my own writing skills. Recently, I discovered a unique quality in this man's teaching repertoire and asked Bradley to share some of his wit and wisdom with my readers. These blog entries will be offered in a series so please come back for more.
Let It Go, Already!
by Bradley Harris
Sixteen years. That’s how long one of my (former) clients has been “working on” her book. You’d think that would be enough time. After all, the woman worked, years ago, as a journalist for a broadcasting organization whose name you’d recognize. She knows about deadlines. Knows how to write fast, get it done.
My client has lots of text—certainly a book’s worth. Pretty well-drafted text it is, too, especially considering it’s in a genre—memoir—that’s new to her. Really, though, I should be saying texts—plural. You see, my old client has in her laptop about twenty chapters, each in three or four versions, on up to—wait for it!--eighteen versions of one chapter.
This is not a “mistake” in writerly method. It’s nonsense. Arguably pathological, meaning no disrespect thereby. She can’t let go.
My client—Brenda, we’ll call her—received well the specific edits I suggested in the early (all different) chapters. But then I started catching déjà vu—chapters I swore I’d read before, save that she hadn’t made changes I was equally sure I’d suggested. “Different versions,” she explained. I stopped work. Told her she shouldn’t be blowing money that way. We talked about the problem, about her being afraid to discard a version of a chapter lest she lose something important or that she really wanted. Variant chapters kept building, each in a separate file. I asked finally, how many files she had. Answer: over a hundred. Blushed when she said it. She knew.
I won’t spend any more of your money, I said, until you do this: Pick a version—any one, your favourite—of each chapter. Then stuff all these into a single file, and we’ll work on that.
Years later, that big single file doesn’t exist. Brenda’s still “working on it.” Sometimes “thinking about it.”
It is now not a book, but an agony.
Your quest for the perfect book (perfect story, perfect poem, etc.) will fail. Guaranteed. Till you, as a writer, move beyond being a member of Homo sapiens, you will continue producing the imperfect, the incomplete, the less-than-it-could-have-been. Get over that. Do these things…
- Get your book or story assembled, early, into a single computer file, even if there are big chunks missing. That’s powerful, motivationally. You’ll be able to think and say That’s my book, not some lame prattle about Well, I’ve got some parts done...
- Pick. This sentence? That sentence? Short version? Long version? This metaphor, or that? Pick one. Save the other(s) if you must—elsewhere.
- Keep writing, rewriting. Go for completeness—get it all there—before you start worrying too much about the finer points.
Query: Do you have sixteen years to wait for your next book?
Bradley Harris is a Canadian writer, editor, and teacher living and working in Memphis, Tennessee. He is the only writer to have won the 3-Day Novel Contest twice - See more of this article at:
His current work Thorazine Beach is available at: