The Unexpected Joys of Killing Your Children (Metaphorically)
I am currently deep in the process of doing rigorous final edits to the Weird Accordion to Al book, whose publication date of November 27th looms tantalizingly and terrifying in the relatively near future. I’m in heavy book mode now, so at any given point at least part of my brain is obsessing about the oeuvre of “Weird Al” Yankovic.
The first draft of The Weird Accordion to Al book ran a little over 133,000 words, or roughly twice as long as the typical book. I really thought I had whipped the book into shape but in the edit that I am currently doing I am finding all sorts of things to cut.
They say that when you finish a book you need to kill your children. I’m not sure why. My children are wonderful and I don’t think murdering either of them would make the Weird Accordion to Al book any better. Actually, now that I really think about it, they were probably being metaphorical in the sense that you need to cut words, ideas, and jokes that feel like children because you brought them to life.
Killing your children is supposed to be painful but I find the process liberating. There’s something weirdly empowering about realizing just how much of what you’ve written is not only inessential but veritably begging to be cut. There’s something oddly satisfying about realizing that riffs you thought were hilarious and digressions that made sense at the time and information can all be eliminated entirely in a way that not only won’t hurt the book as a whole but actually make everything much better.
As an online project, The Weird Accordion to Al was self-indulgent, sloppy and repetitive almost by design. Part of its grand gestalt involved being way, way, way too extra in every regard. I gave myself the freedom to go long, and to be silly, and to follow my wandering muse wherever it took me.
As a book, however, I need to exercise self-discipline. My book needs to pass the “Give a fuck” test my agent told me about early in our working relationship. After the commercial underperformance of The Big Rewind my agent introduced me to this very useful conceit.
When contemplating the commercial viability of a book idea, I had to ask myself, “Would someone who does not know me, or my voice, or my history or issues give a mad-ass fuck about the subject of my book?”
In book form, The Weird Accordion to Al definitely passes the “Give a fuck” test. Even if you have zero interest me in a writer, if you’ve never read any of my columns or any of my books but are interested in “Weird Al” Yankovic then I think you will fucking love my book, in part because the editing process involves editing out a lot of the elements that are unmistakably Nathan Rabin—the jokes, the sloppiness, the self-indulgence, the autobiographical rambles—while preserving a diamond-hard core of incisive critical analysis. I’m as shocked as anyone but I pretty consistently say some pretty insightful things.
The elements of the book that are most me are the first to get cut. That’s not only healthy it’s weirdly liberating.
In the aftermath of The Weird Accordion to Al book’s Kickstarter campaign, I got an email from an editor who worked at a publisher that was interested in potentially publishing the book. I was tempted, because I would very much love to be able to able to delegate authority and not handle nearly everything myself.
Alas, the publisher asked for a lot and offered relatively little in return. He said I would of course I would need to delete all the Weird Accordion to Al columns so that they did not compete with the book. That seemed like a slap in the face to everyone who commented on the Weird Accordion to Al and followed it over a period of two and a half years. It was a deal-breaker, as was their insistence that I edit the book down from 160,000 words in its online form ands 133,000 after its first edit to a lean 90,000 words .
That seemed insane to me. I was willing to edit my manuscript down and embrace discipline and restraint and brevity but there was no way I could possibly get the book down to that level.
Well, friends, in the last edit, I’ve gotten The Weird Accordion to Al book down to about 105,000 words. It’s much better for it. With the My Year of Flops book the big attraction was tens of thousands of new words and new material. With the Weird Accordion to Al book the big attraction is that I slashed 45,000 words so that the book could be as good and tight and cohesive as humanly possible.
I’m almost as excited for everyone to see what’s not in the Weird Accordion to Al book as what’s in it. AND I’m super excited about Felipe Sobreiro’s illustrations and Al’s introduction, additions that will add even more to the inevitable greatness of the Weird Accordion to Al book than all the sloppy words and muddled ideas that are getting the axe.
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