Many of us are faced with this question – to cut or not to cut.
Editing is such sweet sorrow. LOL
Editing is a difficult process. When we are the editors of our own work, it is three times as difficult. How easy it is to read someone else’s work and advise them what to cut. We cut through their works with the precision of a surgeon at times, showing easily which section needs to be amputated. Other times, we use the slash and burn method where we haphazardly cut bits and pieces in order to create a more cohesive work of art.
Imagine if you were an artist – a painter, drawer, or sculptor. (or another visual arts artist) Cutting a section of a painting would seem like cutting off a piece of your own body – the arm, or heaven forbid a head. How could your work of art survive such a manipulation? And yet, we do this all the time when we write and rewrite. We take beautiful scenes – some tender and romantic, others funny and inspiring and clip them willy-nilly from our manuscripts. Oh, sometimes we can’t quite part with them and we send them to a folder on our computers so the dissection is not as painful. We have all done this. Usually it is because someone else has read our work of art and has deemed that particular scene to the dung heap. Of course, they tell you “it’s really quite brilliant, but unnecessary”. “It doesn’t move the scene along, no matter how charming” or “do you really need those characters in here?”
Come now, we’ve all heard those words, or read them on our manuscripts. Your scene will be tighter and flow better if you just got rid of that scene. You cringe to hear someone tell you to cut off your baby’s arm or leg. You are certain your manuscript will not be complete without that essential scene.
Then, much to your amazement, you read the scene without it. You ponder it. You think it just might work. You read it again. Ah, the critique partner might be on to something. It does seem to flow much better. Several days later, you read it again, and for some strange reason, you cannot even imagine the new scene with the old one still attached. You smile as the story flows better.
Then something really bizarre happens – you actually start to write a different scene to take its place.
Uh, oh, you say – this won’t work at all. How can you add to something when you just cut from it?
This is the conundrum that has puzzled many an excellent writer. We just cannot leave it alone. We cut, we add. We cut, we add some more. Sometimes it’s the word count that drives us to add more. We keep looking at the bottom of our computer screen (you know the section on the lower left hand side) and think – okay I need to add so many more words before this is finished.
Before computers it was the page count. We would keep on typing until we reached the magical 400 pages. Now, it’s all about the word count.
Remember that scene you cut? Sometimes, because of this word count, we actually bring out the deleted scene and polish it off, once more adding it to the story.
I know authors who are the master of cutting scenes and just leaving them on the floor. I want to be like them when I grow up. I have to admit I have become less and less attached to those deleted scenes as I grow as a writer. It’s like the blankie you had as a child. At the time, you are certain you cannot live without it. Your day would be miserable if you had to part with it. Now, as a grown up you wonder how you ever walked around with that blankie for all those years. The same is true of your novel’s pages. You cannot image parting with those little gems of jocularity or sensual scenes of sexual stimulation. Then, as you mature as an author, you realize the silliness of holding on to something that will merely hold you back as an author. Cutting now, does not seem like such a bad thing.
The true growth of an author does not only know what to cut, but what to add. We can talk about that next time.