Kill your darlings

Sometimes it’s not how many words you write, it’s how many you cut.

Now, there’s no doubt about it: it feels more fulfilling–and it’s more fun–to rack up big word counts of shiny new words. 1,000 words written? Yeah, not bad. 1,500? Right on. 2,000 or more? Now we’re talking’! But writing is more than churning stuff out. Writing also means revising and editing, rewriting and proof reading. And it means cutting.

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A lot of red ink. Some rewriting, a few word changes, but mostly just hacking out stuff that was slowing the story down.

Today was all about the cutting. Over the last few weeks I’ve taken a break from my novel to work on some short stories–to clear my head, get a little perspective, and have some fun whipping out some stuff I can finish in short order. One of them I drafted  entirely in longhand before typing it up, which was a nice breather away from the computer. Going through it a few times now, I’ve managed to hack out 450 words (about 5% of the total) and I hope to cut at least that much more. Already it’s leaner, tighter–and better. Sometimes less really is more.

Not to get overly spiritual, but–actually, let me just dive right in: this is a spiritual thing. In the Gospel of John,  Jesus compares himself to a vine, his disciples to branches of the vine, and God the Father to the gardener. He says that God prunes the branches that bear fruit so that they will be even more fruitful. He prunes the good ones, the fruitful ones.

Whether it’s a story or our lives, pruning means cutting away at good stuff so it will be even better. And it’s not easy. With the story, it means cutting away stuff I spent time on. A lot of time. Stuff I like. Stuff that I think is pretty well written–but that needs to go so that the whole piece will be better. (It’s called “killing your darlings” here in the land of writing.)

The same is true of our lives. More isn’t always better. Trying to do everything usually means not doing anything very well. “A mile wide and an inch deep” isn’t a good thing. We have to be willing to be pruned (probably in lots of ways).

The pruning of my story isn’t done. I’ll be doing another round of it tomorrow, trying to get those next 500 words cut. It’s not going to be easy; after all, pruning well is pretty much just as hard as getting the words down to begin with. But the pages are printed–and the red pen is ready.

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8 thoughts on “Kill your darlings

  1. Last night, I edited for the first time. It was just a blog post. It’s scheduled for the 29th. If you read my posts before then, you’ll only encounter behemoth beast posts.

    It was much harder than I thought it would be. When I was finished, I felt like an artist. Halving the word count felt exhilarating. Selecting more powerful wording was a chess game. I may end up enjoying editing more than drafting.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Right on. I like how you compare editing to a chess game. I find I love editing when it means tightening and streamlining things; where it gets hard for me is when I realize something needs a whole rewrite or that I need to add a lot of new material that I didn’t realize I needed.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I am wrapping up a whirlwind class on Novel Writing {NaNoWrimo-style} and will be sharing this post with them as we convene for our final class tomorrow. I find the editing and revision to be the most challenging part; getting the words down is easy {for me}, but the streamlining always seems so daunting! Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

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