Tuesday, March 3, 2015

RICHARD PRYOR: AMERICAN ID (Day 4)


Hi, I just wrote another 4000-word essay that needed to be around 2500, how’re you?

This struggle is not new; as I took a cooling off trip to the men’s room midway through the afternoon (and rest assured, whatever condition you might imagine the giant midtown library’s men’s room to be in, you’re probably underestimating it), I realized that I go through this every time I write one of these things. They always come out long. It is, as I’ve mentioned, the byproduct of over-research; this is just the result of the predicted disparity between the amount of time spent on research and amount of notes accumulated in said time (roughly the same as a 50-60K word volume) and the length of this one (20K). It is what it is. I’m worried, but not panicked.

The good news is I re-read the revision of yesterday’s piece and it wasn’t just a matter of fixing it to make it not as bad; I think it’s legit good, so that’s a comfort. That was the first thing I did when I got to work this morning, trying out the routine for the week. I start by putting fresh eyes on yesterday’s essay, giving it a couple of more reads, tweaking, revising, compressing, expanding. Once that’s done I sit down with the notes for that day’s essay, and work up the outline. By the time I’m done with that, it’s 11; I head out, eating my lunch on the train and reading on the way, arrive at the library around noon, and get to work.

Today’s essay is about vulnerability, on two tracks: how Richard handled bombing (and there’s more evidence of it than you might think, so that’s all pretty fascinating stuff), and how he brought his own vulnerability, specifically w/r/t sex, to his act. I started at noon, took a brief break in the middle to move to another research room because the jerk security guard said we couldn’t plug our computers into the outlets of the room that everyone was plugged into yesterday, and came to an end at 3:45 with a total of, sigh, 4134 words. I stayed away as long as I could (about 15 minutes) before returning to it for revision, hoping some giant key would appear that would unlock a way to yank out 1600 words, like yesterday.

The bad news is, there is no easy fix like that. When I finished my next pass, pulling out a few side thoughts and redundant phrases, I’d only managed to get it down to 4043. So what do I do from here?


For now, nothing. Out of sheer curiosity, I found a big section that I could pull out, which’d chop about 800 words without much strain, but simply put, I like that stuff too much, and I think it’s interesting. (And unlike the easy pulls from yesterday, it’s commentary/analysis, so it’s not “already out there”). That’s an in-case-of-emergency-break-glass section; I’ll remember that I can do that, and hope I don’t have to. Instead, I’ll leave it as is, and see how the rest of the week plays out. My editor has made it clear that the 20K word count is just a suggestion, though I’m not sure how loose he means (especially if the rest of the week goes as these two days have on the over-writing front). If I need to get drastic, I could drop one of the essays; the last one I’m writing is the one I’m least certain of, and the wrap-up elements of it could graft pretty easily into the second-to-last chapter, so that’s an option.


We’ll see. That’s where I’m at, at the end of day four. We’ll see.

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