You’re Better at Revisions Than You Think

Cutting your manuscript for length may not be as difficult as you fear.

Yes, there is the concept of “kill your darlings” that you have probably heard somewhere around a billion times in the writing world. In other words, so goes the advice to writers, be prepared to save your manuscript by removing sentences, pages or even entire plot points from your fiction with which you have fallen totally in love. Afterwards, prepare to feel and accept the resultant sucking void left in your soul for years to come.

Okay. While we’re at it, why don’t we just go ahead and explain to the world that only rough drafts written with quill pens in our own blood are sufficient to express true devotion to our craft?

The truth is, you probably will have to get rid of parts of your drafts that you like. That’s the nature of revisions and editing. It’s all part of making your manuscript as tight and compelling as possible, yes. I concede that.

Yet if you are so in love with a section of your novel that the thought of excising it keeps you up at night, that’s a decent sign that it ought to stay in the manuscript.

Further, the “kill your darlings” approach, while in some ways accurate and well meaning seems to declare that no writer ever truly wants to get rid of anything they have written, and that simply isn’t true.

My debut novel, Flowers of Dionysus is just over 85 thousand words. The first draft came in at about 120 thousand. I knew even before I finished that I would have to cut that down for the second draft. I did, and you know what? A lot of it was pretty easy to say goodbye to. It was logical to write it in the moment of creation, but it took only one reading of my entire rough draft for me to realize that hey, this doesn’t add anything to the narrative, and further, isn’t even interesting in its own right. I removed a whole chapter at one point, and instead of it feeling like I was killing my darlings, it was more like politely declining to take a door-to-door survey from some out of town marketing stooge that got my address from a list.

In other words, it didn’t cause a lot of distress.

"This is my fourth cuppa, and my tenth lousy prologue of the day."

“This is my fourth cuppa, and my tenth lousy prologue of the day.”

If you are thinking of writing something for the first time, know that you are a better judge of what must go in revisions than you may think. And if you have ever written anything ever, I am almost certain you have cut at least a few things out of a draft at some point, and never gave it a second thought. Beta readers and editors can be vital to our success, but don’t discount the possibility that you yourself will catch much of your own literary bloat in the early drafts.

Yes, there are some out there who write entire manuscripts without stopping, and when finished can’t bear to part with a single word. We call those people hopeless, or if you prefer, delusional. For the rest of us, we’ve got a built-in sense for what has to go from our own creations, and it’s okay if we don’t shed a tear when we do so.

Dismissing something from your manuscript with ease is not a sign of a lack of passion for your story because not everything you write is a gem. (Shocker.) If anything, be able to make painless cuts early on is a sign of maturity in a writer.

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