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Brutal Cuts Make Good Reading

Editing - Brutal Cuts Make Good ReadingPeople, I have vertigo.  If you haven’t already picked up on it, I’m writing a novel right now.  It’s unusual for me, to write a novel.  I tend to focus on short stories, getting a lot of satisfaction from putting together a snapshot of a moment a character (or characters’ lives) in about 2000 words.  Last week the first draft of my novel broke through the 80,000 mark.  I can’t quite believe it myself. 80,000 bloody words – how did that happen?

Well, of course, one word at a time.  One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given about writing was that you should write everyday – even if it’s crap.  Just sit down, every day, at a designated time if you can (impossible for me), and write.

Grind it out, get it down on paper.

I’m not sure how much further my novel’s first draft has to go before it will be finished and ready for the scalpel.  Maybe another twenty, thirty thousand words or so.  All I know is I’m working hard on it and it continues to grow, one word at a time.  Then the real fun starts – editing.

One of the writer’s groups I follow on Facebook recently posted a quote by Stephen King, which rang true and really resonated with me.  The prolific author of so many horror stories – which I love and am terrified of in equal measure – said: “when your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone.  Get rid of every ounce of excess fat.  This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”

Ever the horror writer, King uses an analogy to shock, and it’s hard to believe that such mammoth texts such as It and The Stand were cut out from larger drafts; but King’s words capture my feelings about editing exactly.  I’ve never written a piece of fiction as long as 80,000 words (so far) – what do you mean I’ve got to cut out thousands of words, the culmination of hours spent away from hubbie and the housework?  Gosh, the unbleached sink is never going to forgive me if I chuck away the chapter or paragraph I was writing when I could have been scrubbing him? (why it’s male, I don’t know – it just feels appropriate).

But, of course, Stephen King is right.  When the time comes and the last word has been regurgitated onto my laptop, the pruning will begin.  If I’m going to wrestle my unwieldy novel into something palatable, engaging and ultimately readable, I’ll need to hack out the excessive descriptions, the clunky narrative, the sections of dialogue that don’t really work.  Of course, I’ll never find anything like that in my writing, but I’ll review it, just to humour the King.

So, when I’m finished, I will start to treat my pile of words like paydirt and will start to pan for gold. I’ll wade through, scalpel in hand, and will edit, edit, edit.  Hopefully I’ll find a nugget along the way, something so beautiful I won’t actually believe I’ve written it. And that should give me the motivation to keep writing and keep throwing away.

What’s the longest piece you’ve ever written?  How did you feel about editing it?

About Rebecca Burns

Rebecca Burns - writer of short stories.

Debut collection, "Catching the Barramundi", published by Odyssey Books in 2012 and longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Award in 2013. Rebecca was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2011 and profiled as part of the University of Leicester's "Grassroutes" project, which is funded by the Arts Council and showcases the 50 best transcultural writers in Leicestershire.

Read a sample and download "Catching the Barramundi" at Amazon.

To read more of Rebecca's work, visit her web site found on the link below.

View all contributions by Rebecca Burns

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  • AM Rees July 3, 2014, 6:41 am

    I love this stella piece of advice! I am currently on my 6th re-write of 167,000 novel. I know I need to get serious with the cutting – I get that feeling in my stomach when I read a chapter that just doesn’t fit, it’s like a pull and a push of the fear of losing it vs the fear of keeping it in. Good luck with yours! I shall keep you updated on my task too.

    Best x

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