Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Slash, Cut, and Destroy

A writer friend who lives in sunny South Africa shared this poster on facebook today. I found only one thing wrong with it. The man is smiling while he's deleting precious words he'd written in his first draft. Why, oh, why do you think he'd smile about this? He must have a loose screw somewhere, and I don't mean in his computer.

Writing a first draft is hard work. All you have to start with is an idea--totally abstract. Putting words on the screen or paper makes it concrete. It's there. You put all those words together to form a sensible (hopefully) piece of writing, be it an essay, fiction story, memoir or a poem. You let it simmer awhile and then go back to read it. You might find you've gone over the maximum number of words for the market you're aiming at. Or you see that much of what you've written is repetitious or doesn't fit with the theme at all. Time to cut.

When we are newbie writers, cutting anything we've written is absolutely painful. How can I destroy something I've created? It's well worth dumping those redundant, overflowery, off the subject parts of what you've written. We all tend to overwrite in our first draft of a new project. I wonder sometimes if too much enthusiasm for a new piece of writing is partly responsible. We get excited when beginning a new project. We're happy. We're filled with satisfaction. We are ready to plunge ahead in a hurry.

Offering your first draft to a critique group or a trusted writer friend often results in the writer hearing that a great deal of what he/she has written must be deleted. Scratched. Cut out. Destroyed. Doesn't matter what word you use, it must be done if the writer wants a publishable story. Once we accept that doing so is necessary, then we can slash words without any pain whatsoever.

In the early days of my writing life, I could have worn a crown as The Queen of Unnecessary Words. I thank my first online critique group for admonishing me over and over to get rid of those words that added nothing to the story or were redundant or those adjectives that were too many in number. They taught me to put nothing into a story that didn't move the story along, they encouraged dumping long descriptions that made no difference to the story plot. I learned that if I cut all those unnecessary words, my finished product felt exactly that--finished. It was tighter writing, it was stronger, it was more likely to be published.

Maybe I'm wrong in wondering why the man in the poster is smiling as he slashes his way through a first draft. Maybe he is delighted with the end result. Yep, that must be it. He has made his peace with cutting parts of his first effort. So why not smile?

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