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Writing tip: Don’t be afraid to cut

Posted by Maria Murnane | November 9, 2015

In my first job out of college, one of my assignments was to co-write an opinion piece for my boss. (In this case, “co-write” meant “write.”) He told me the points he wanted to make, and my role was to turn those ideas into a clear, readable argument that a prominent magazine in our industry would accept. Both of us would get the byline, so I was excited!

I’ll never forget my boss’s reaction when I proudly showed him my masterpiece. He smiled at me, then sighed and said something along the lines of, “Ah, how difficult it is to part with young words.”

Cutting words can sting, but it's often necessary to improve the overall product

At first I didn’t understand what he meant, but then he (tactfully) explained to me that the essay would be much better if I cut out about a third of it. He also said he understood that it would be hard for me to delete words I’d taken such precious time coming up with in the first place. My twenty-two-year-old ego was bruised by his reaction to my hard work, but when I read what I’d written again, I realized something: He was right.

I’d gotten so wrapped up in the thrill of seeing my own words in a magazine that I overdid it and lost sight of the point of the assignment - to make a clear, readable argument. And yes, while it was hard to part with those words, the revised essay was much better as a result.

The experience provided me with a valuable lesson. Even though I now write novels for a living, I still have a tendency to, shall I say, overstate the point – especially in the early chapters, when I’m still figuring things out. In the revision process of my latest book, my editor marked several sections as “already stated” or “already made clear” and (strongly) suggested that I delete them, which I quickly did. And guess what? My feelings weren’t hurt. Growth all the way around!

Note: In this post I’m talking about repetition of information or concepts. Click here to read my post about what to do with entire scenes that end up on the cutting room floor.

-Maria

 

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2015 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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