Thursday, July 21, 2011

Aspiring Advice: Cutting Without The Pain

This weeks post is obviously inspired by the arduous editing that's gone on for the last couple weeks, on my end. You'd think I'd learn my lesson by now, but it's no surprise that the best lessons are the hardest to grasp. I'm on a bit of a tight schedule today, so let's go!

Congratulations! You just finished the initial draft of your novel (if you haven't reached that point, you'll get there). Now it's time to go back to the beginning and see what you wrote months/years ago. A universal truth in writing is that your beginning won't seem nearly as good to you as the final chapters you just wrote. What's with that? Putting it simply, your writing has grown and improved since you started. You know your story better, and your characters, when you were just learning about them at the start. What you may find most difficult to edit are overall sequences or elements that do not work in your story anymore. You spent all that time writing these descriptive passages. How do you cut them out with feeling like a literary emo?

It's not an easy question to answer, but I ask myself these questions while I go through the process:

Is this about me or the story?
Will the story benefit without this?
Does it need this or am I writing to impress?

The best coping mechanism I've adopted is to think of myself as a conduit (see quote at the bottom). This story I just wrote--it existed somewhere in the cosmos long before the idea came to me. For some reason, I tapped into it and wrote it down. Like any scribe, some things were lost or mixed up in translation. The story owns me, not the other way around. If a few sentences or a whole page doesn't work, I cut it and paste it in my notes. Those passages could be used for another story.

The most common cuts I make are excessive tags, overlong narratives, and monologues. It's okay to be a little wordy when you're figuring out how to present the story, so long as you plan to trim the fat later.

This is not the rule, just my thoughts on the matter. Chopping through your manuscript isn't easy, but it often leads to a smoother read. Don't take it personal. Over time, the more you let go, the easier it will be to understand what's best for the story. Besides--a short word count is an easier in for the unpublished author.

What do you look for when you edit. What do you find yourself cutting the most? It is easy or does it hurt?

I'm David, and we're halfway through this thing!


  1. I'm with you on the excessive tags. Why do I feel the need to show everyone what every character's facial features are doing? LOL! Excellent post. Sometimes cutting can be very painful, but then the WIP heals, and it's better looking because of it...sorta like a nose job.

  2. I get very concerned with the length of my book after editing. Now I realize that editing is better for the book, not for myself.

    Good luck with the rest of your editing!


  3. Oh gawd do I dread the day when I have to look at what I wrote in the beginning again! I almost want to just start something new and forget that this literary abortion that is my MS ever existed, but that's why we revise isn't it?

  4. Sometimes it really is like pulling teeth-- other times it's as satisfying as popping a zit-- but it is always WORK. The process with my editor has been rigorous and fabulous all at the same time. The harrowing of my story has made it quite crisp and delicious.

  5. Hi David,

    Here's a completely different approach from me. I'm new to this novel business, but I am quite familiar with short stories. I'm an adder-inner. And this seems to be the case with novels too.

    I'm looking at the first draft I did last year -- 60K, and all kinds of ideas are spinning off it. I'm thinking about making it a trilogy. So I need to add a lot of material. A lot.

    And oh, the writing -- not good. I'm taking comfort from what you said;

    "Putting it simply, your writing has grown and improved since you started."

  6. I suppose that at some point I'll get to the cutting point. I'm just not there, yet.

    I was interested in what you said about the story owning you and not the other way around. Something to ponder.

  7. Tense shifting is the devil and why can't I catch myself when I'm doing it?! At least with excessive tags you can crtl-F to find the offending linker.

  8. I definitely explain things too much. And repeat myself. And repeat myself. And tell the reader how someone feels too much... which I guess is just explaining things too much in a specific way. So look! I just repeated myself! Revising is my bff.