Revision Woes & Learning How to Cut Words

I am now on my fourth revision of the novel I finished in late April of this year. It has gone through many cuts, re-writes, tweaks, and has certainly been shouted at by yours truly. I cannot convey how much I have struggled and learned throughout this process. I feel like a completely different writer and the way I look at writing has changed fundamentally.

I’ve been using a few tools to get through this revision process. I started out with Janice Hardy’s Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, which I’m still using today as I get through this fourth revision. It’s been instrumental in getting me to where I am today. She accounts for all different kinds of first drafts: incomplete drafts, plot-suffering drafts, and, most relative to me, too-long drafts.  I also read her Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It) which completely changed the way I wrote and viewed others’ writing. Despite being a fairly simple topic on the surface, it was an eye-opener and game changer. Her work, in general, has been very helpful to me in becoming a better writer and all the savageries you must tuck under your belt to get there (kill your darlings).

I have cut 25,000 (25k) words from my novel. 55 or so pages, for those of you who think in those terms.I never thought I would be able to do that. I looked at my behemoth and I’m like I CAN’T CUT ANYTHING. But I could and I did. And I should have. The phrase, “kill your darlings,” doesn’t just refer to killing off characters. It means cutting beloved paragraphs, scenes, and entire chapters. It means coming to terms with the fact that although you love this scene, cutting it will probably make your entire body of work stronger. It’s been a very painful learning process, but I’ve come away stronger. I feel less indecision and remorse about cutting scenes because I know that being more concise and true to what it’s about will make the entire novel stronger.

Does it get easier? How do you do it? I think an understanding of why you’re doing it is first and foremost. Like previously stated, cutting all those extraneous bits of my novel made the story stronger. It’s like getting a haircut when you’re overgrown and overrun by split ends. Those split ends aren’t going to lead anywhere, they’re just distracting from what the entirety of your hairdo could be (if you chopped ’em off). Strange metaphor but, eh.

If a scene or chapter is particularly special or meaningful to me, or if I think it may be useful in another part (usually isn’t), I’ll tuck it away into my “Cuts” folder in my Scrivener file. That way, it’s not truly gone forever. It’s a secret way to make it hurt less.

I’m sure my book is still too long at this point. As I type this post, my manuscript is at 188,506 words, which is roughly somewhere between 358-539 pages, according to Scrivener. I’m going to continue with my revisions and continue to pare it down to size until it’s telling the exact message I want it to. I’m still going to be sending off to agents and publishers, because I feel ready, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop revising.

Anyhow, I hope my shared stories of my revision struggles and enlightenment can help you in some way. Please don’t hesitate to comment below with any questions or stories you have. Thanks for reading.

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