Subtraction is a Plus.

When I’m writing the first few drafts of a fiction piece, I find it much easier to take things away than to add them.

That isn’t to say taking away is always easy. I can fall in love with my stuff as much as the next writer. But if I get to a “done” type of feeling with a draft, in the majority of cases I’d rather be told I need to lose 2,000 words than have to come up with 1,000 more.

Lest you think this relates only to tight plotting, I’ll mention I feel the same way about some of the literary pieces I have written as well. I’m sort of allowed to meander if I am going the literary route, and believe me sometimes I do. Yet even when it’s all about the metaphor or the prose, I’d rather be consolidating than expanding the piece.

Maybe I don’t love my darlings as much as most writers. Or maybe I don’t see them as my darlings until the story itself is complete. (Maybe I’ve never liked the often quoted “darlings” metaphor anyway.)

Whatever the level of “darlingism” in my words, it’s obvious that making things shorter is less labor intensive to me than adding spacers and making them longer is. (At least 90% of the time this is true, anyway.) I’ve often told people than some of my best 5,000 word stories were former 7,000 word stories.

Shorter is not always better, though. I haven’t totally deified brevity as some do. In fact, making something shorter doesn’t always make it short, does it? It just means that upon further review, I’m able to rid my piece of a character, a plot twist, a setting, a conversation that turns out not to improve things. By so doing, the piece is tighter at any length. After all, a 1,000 word story can drone and ramble just as much as a 30,000 word story can do so. The opposite is of course true as well; a 100,000 word piece can in fact move quickly, so long as most of those 100,000 words are operating at maximum efficiency, and not taking my reader too far off course. My readers don’t always have to know where I’m going, but they should always feel that they’re on a road, and not bumping around in the cornfield somewhere. Shortening my work is sort of like avoiding the cornfields.

Silly as it sounds, I feel I am accomplishing more, and have in fact gotten more work done when I am cutting things out then when I am adding them. Taking away and slimming down and quickening a piece means that I’ve probably already produced most of what the story needs in one form or the other. I just have to tidy up. If I find that I need to add scenes to future drafts, however, I tend to feel I wasn’t really done yet. Or that my idea, as stated, has to be changed into something else, and that is more draining. Worth it sometimes, yes, but far more draining to realize, “this isn’t done yet.”

I won’t claim this is the best way for a writer to feel. I happen to be a planner most of the time. I’m also someone who finished a first draft without ever looking back until it’s done. I don’t know if this view of editing and revising would work for pantsers or for people that edit each page as it comes. Not that it has to, naturally. But if you’re unsure about whether or not you have written anything worth keeping if you find yourself cutting and cutting it down to sleeker, smaller pieces during revisions, you can take heart from my experiences.

Writers: is it easier for you to add or subtract from you work as time goes on?




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