Writing Wrongs

December 17, 2005

I posted the below missive in my writing group when one of my friends mentioned that writerly bit of advice of cutting everything you love or are proud of in your writing. Then I thought, hey, why not make it a blog post, too, slightly embellished with an extra helping of rants.

I think that bit of advice about cutting everything you’re proud of or love has been skewed from its original intent. Like a lot of writing advice, actually. I mean, if we cut everything we loved, wouldn’t we be cutting the entire book? Or are we supposed to keep the stuff we hate? (Which doesn’t make any sense when you think about it.)

Sometimes writers hold onto things in their stories that they shouldn’t. I have a bad habit of holding onto lines of dialogue. I’ve built scenes around bits of dialogue when I know I shouldn’t. For others, it might be description or even entire scenes. It might be a character.

When you edit, remembering to love the book, but not the scene/description/line of dialogue, etc. is paramount. Love the book. It’s okay to love the book, to love your writing. It’s a balance of ego and humility. Feedback helps, but you also have to be your biggest fan. And I mean that in the sense that the story is truly your own, you can love it and still be aware that it’s a work in progress, that you need to fix some things, are still developing craft.

I’m not sure where the line of thought came in that if something hasn’t been through a “critique mill,” if it hasn’t been torn to shreds, it isn’t any good. I’ve read plenty of pieces like this. Some you can tell have been critiqued beyond recognition--and the story/prose still doesn’t work. Others are technically correct, but lack soul.

What I do when I edit something and there’s something bothering me, be it a scene, a paragraph, a line, I bracket it--either on the page or in my mind. Then I go off and think about it. Sometimes cutting is the easiest and least painful method of dealing with something. I know it’s hard to believe, but most days I’d rather cut than revise. Revision means weaving something in that wasn’t there to begin with, and making sure none of the threads show. Cutting is pretty clean in comparison.

So when you keep the idea of the whole versus the parts in mind, cutting, moving the pieces around, weaving new threads actually becomes a rewarding task. It can be fun to “re-dream the fictional dream.”

It’s also why time and distance helps. It helps you see what really should be in YOUR story, and not what someone else thinks should be there.

Charity Tahmaseb wrote at 10:51 a.m.