“I’ve found it useful to think of the revision process as having two separate parts. [Adding] teaches me what I still need to know about my characters and their stories. Once I know the nuances, I can concentrate on what to leave out. Experience has taught me that sooner or later during the additive part of the process, something will click, and I’ll know the piece more fully than I did when I first began writing it. It’s that click that then gives me permission to start subtracting, cutting anything that doesn’t belong, anything that slackens the pace, anything that bloats the narrative, anything that makes the language vague and loose.” —Lee Martin
Read: “To the Quick” by Tony Tulathimutte
Revise: I’m going to ask you to take two passes over your manuscript. For the first pass, you might use a cleaver instead of a scalpel. You might slash whole paragraphs or scenes or characters. You might figure out that your story really starts on the third page. Cut without fear, because:
- I want you to practice this skill, and practice it heartily, and
- You have nothing to lose. Not really. Even if you decide later that you cut too much, you can always go back to a previous version of this manuscript. Be swashbuckling.
In addition to using the strategies in the article above, consider the following moves:
- Question every filter. Filtering is when something is presented through another character’s senses. For example: She watched the gray man cross the street is filtered; The gray man crossed the street is not filtered. Filters are not always bad. Sometimes there’s a good reason to use one. But if you can’t find a good reason, cut it.
- Watch out for “began.” He began to edge toward the door is really the same as He edged toward the door, right? Most of the time, “began to” or “started to” can be excised.
For your second pass, try an old trick from the writing world: When you are sure that you’re done with a story—when you think it is as tight as a drum—pretend that an editor has demanded that you cut it by 10%. At first, you’ll think there’s no way you can do it, but you can always find a way (and, in fact, you’ll usually end up cutting more than 10%)—and the story is almost always better for it.
What went well with this exercise today?
What didn’t go so well? How might you adapt this exercise for the next time you tighten up a story?
How much did you end up cutting?
What did you learn—about writing, or about yourself as a writer?