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Cutting: It's what writers do

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by Caged Maiden, May 16, 2016.

  1. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    HI all, I just wanted to share a message I wrote on my Facebook author's page earlier this week:

    Cutting: It's what writers do after writing.
    Imagine if other people worked like writers...
    You'd finish putting that new water pump in your car, only to rip the doors off and the seats out...to "make it go faster."
    You'd finish compiling that report for your boss, but rather than give answers, you'd ask questions: Where is this going, Why does this matter, Who will benefit from this report? (and your boss may think you lost your mind when you scrap the report and start over, "coming at it from a different POV.")
    You'd stand before bright-eyed students and when someone raises their hand to ask a question about something unrelated, you'd pound your syllabus with an angry finger and say, "I can't deviate or I'll lose your attention! We only cover the need-to-knows!"
    Yes, it's probably a great thing that other people don't work like writers.

    (back to just me talking at you) I know not everyone believes in cutting, and I'm not saying it's the right choice for anyone, but I just did a whole lot of cutting. And I needed a little laugh after the hard work, so I tried to put it into perspective for my non-writer friends.

    Pep talk time!

    If you are planning an editing pass, or a rewrite of an older work that you recognize is lacking, or you just finished with a scene that went on way too long...take heart. You aren't alone. You're SO not alone.

    We write, then we cut, then we rewrite, then we cut. It feels never-ending sometimes. And that's okay. I'll tell you this, from the very bottom of my heart, that it gets easier. But first, it gets really hard. The landscape hazes over until you can't see where you're going. The woods grow dark. Eerie noises seem to pull you off the path or try to scare you in a direction you don't want to go. And it gets lonely.

    Writing and cutting are like pistons in a car (okay, technically, more a crankshaft, maybe I'll just switch to muscles). You get all this power from a muscular contraction, but it can't go on forever. You have to let the muscle reset, so you can get energy from it again. Otherwise, no movement. :( And writing is like that. I just undertook a rewrite I was looking forward to. I had a chapter I edited last year, making it more immediate, more mysterious, and faster paced. But it didn't excite readers for a number of reasons. So I wrote a whole new chapter. And then I cut. Power, relax. Power, relax. Like building muscles. Yuk, maybe like by doing planks (the most frustrating exercise ever because you aren't doing ANYTHING, but it hurts so bad). And the thing about writing and cutting, is that it feels futile, like planking over and over. And it's hard to see improvements with each little sentence cut, with each paragraph that goes bye-bye.

    But after a good episode of writing and cutting, each time making things worse, more immediate, raising the stakes, raising questions, giving characters choices. Each time that dialogue gets a little sharper, a beat between dialogue punches the conversation up a notch, or a character has a more visceral reaction to something that at first was underwhelming. Yeah, each time that happens, you have completed a one-minute plank. Screw planking. You won a freaking battle. And this is war, son. Each battle won matters. And you can hang your hat on that victory!

    Hang in there, friends. IF (because I don't want anyone to mistake my message today as advice on how to write or that cutting is the way to go, so again IF) you are where I am, and you have decided to undertake an edit or are planning to, or are halfway through one, just know that there are tons of writers out there who have never done it because it was too scary. Or because it was so much work. Or they thought they dug till they hit pay dirt, but they could have gone further.

    Some people don't cut, and that's great for them, I'm not questioning their decision or skill, or anything else. Just saying that for me, this was a real ordeal, cutting everything I thought I liked and replacing it with things that really worked on a deeper foundation. And if I hadn't just done three complete rewrites (only saving my favorite items from draft to draft) on this one new chapter I just added, I wouldn't have really seen my own progress take shape in front of my eyes. I made myself work until it hit all the marks, not just some, not just a couple. And it was torturous, let me tell you.

    And today, I feel victorious!

    I have friends on the road with me, and though we still have to slog through the muddy, dark nighttime woods on occasion, I'm not alone, and it isn't half as scary as it used to be. And for the first time in years, I can see the horizon, the place I'm going to rest for the night. And now all I have to do is get there, by keeping on this road.

    Take heart, friends. Cutting makes way for better writing. And wherever you are on your personal journey as a writer, you aren't alone.
    Heliotrope likes this.
  2. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    I love this so much.

    When I'm writing my first draft I think of it like buying fabric. I get all the thousands of words down and then I have a bolt of fabric. I have a print, maybe a floral, maybe a damask, maybe a nice gingham check.

    Then I need to get to work. I have to cut, stitch, shape, cut, add darts, reinforce seams, add buttons. After all that I'll realize the bodice would have been better in a contrasting velvet. So I re-write. Add a new scene. Create more fabric. Then cut and sew and stitch and embroider and add darts again until everything fits.

    But the first draft is just fabric. It's just words on the page. The real story doesn't come until after the hard work is finished.
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Writing is one of the most difficult tasks in the world. Except for editing. Which is harder.

    Thanks for the pep talk, CM. I'm not in the middle of edit, I'm in the far, dusty halls. I just want it all to be over.
    Heliotrope likes this.
  4. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver


    I edited half the first draft of Labyrinth right out of existence. Too much pointless fighting and wandering. Also had to cut some good stuff that just didn't fit, including a major character.

    And once I finish the current WIP and a couple little projects, its back to rewrite number three of 'Empire: Country.' The rough draft of that work still makes me shudder, though I didn't cut near as much of it as I did 'Labyrinth.'

    It turns into a slog after a while.
  5. Sometime I cringe at what I'm writing, I just go and rewrite, then cringe, and then rewrite until I imagine it seeing it as a Hollywood scene.

    Hey, its visually helping so that's ok.
  6. Jamesthesecond

    Jamesthesecond Acolyte

    Every now and then I'll write a scene and in the moment think 'Hey, that wasn't too bad' but later come back to it and realize how terrible it was and immediately go back and rewrite. It's awesome to know that that's not entirely strange.

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