Cutting to the chase


If there’s one thing I’ve become aware of as this second edit of my novel gets underway it’s that it really is more than a little inconsistent.

Overall I’d say my writing is pretty concise. I’m not very prone to waffle, and whilst I like to play with language to conjure up worlds and atmosphere I think I’m generally fairly skilled at selecting my words carefully so I don’t use one where ten will do.

But the more I re-examine my writing in this manuscript the more I realise that whilst it is on the whole pretty tight, there are still big swathes of text that really have no business being there at all. I thought they did, obviously, first time round – but looking at them now they add nothing, and if anything detract from the story I’m trying to tell.

On the flip-side of this there are other scenes that I’ve skipped over, related from a distance when really I needed to get stuck right in. Getting to those bits as I work my way through is actually the highlight of this whole process: realising that I can write more, can get lost inside my characters’ heads again even if only for a few minutes.

The cutting, though, is another matter altogether.

I almost entirely ignored it first time round. The process of editing my first draft was mainly one of tweaks and additions. I couldn’t quite bring myself to get rid of the dead wood – couldn’t even bring myself to notice it was there. But now, finally, I’m seeing things a bit more clearly.

It’s made me reflect a bit on my writing process actually. When I was creating that first draft I was working to a pretty detailed outline, one which I’d broken down into chapters, each with their own word-count target. I needed that structure at that stage – something that would make me get the words on the page, get the story out and give me something to work with. But of course the story itself didn’t fit those boxes I created quite as neatly – and it’s only through being more flexible that it’s beginning to fall into place.

I’m almost halfway through the edit now – well, halfway through the manuscript at least. I’ve cut and combined some chapters, and even with a few necessary additions the overall word count has dropped from 92,300 to 88,313. It pains me slightly to think of the (over) 4,000 words that I laboured over as I crafted the initial story, rejected and consigned to the scrapheap.

Even as I write that I realise I’m living one of the age-old cliches of editing a novel – it might be relatively easy to get the words on the page but cutting the ones it turns out you don’t need is a whole other matter.

Now that they’ve started to go, though, I can feel new life being breathed into the story. There is a stronger sense of urgency, and neither the narrative nor my characters can be accused of dragging their heels.

I’m curious to see where things go from here. There’s more dead wood to cut, I know that for sure. And as it falls I can see new shoots growing in its place, scenes that will draw the reader into the story rather than make them switch off. It’s those scenes that are keeping me going, but it turns out the cutting isn’t too bad. Strangely liberating, in fact. And most definitely necessary.


Writing Bubble


7 thoughts on “Cutting to the chase

  1. Mummy Tries

    Go you, sounds like you’re on a roll now. I read Stewart Ferris’s How to be A Writer before starting my own book, and he talks a lot about the cutting room floor. I think I took his words to heart, because I never had an issue with getting rid of the dead wood. Maybe I’d feel differently with fiction, who knows? xx

  2. Emily Organ

    I’m a big believer in cut, cut, cut! I work out I wrote 120,000 words for my latest book. About 20,000 was descriptive stuff which helped me with background and then 100,000 for the first draft. It now sits at 92,000 ish. It can be hard to remove sentences, paragraphs and even whole chapters! But I think it’s part of the process and is never ‘wasted time’. It sounds like the pruning is working for you, good luck with the rest of it! It can seem a never ending task.

  3. redpeffer

    I’d be the same-whenever I cut anything I always place it in another folder ‘just in case’ because I can’t bear to literally get rid of it. But on the other hand, it is so satisfying when you see the difference cutting makes to the flow of the piece. I’m glad you’re finding it an enjoyable experience.

  4. Nicola Young

    It’s great to follow how you are getting on and it seems to be really coming together for you. Cutting bits out might be hard, but if you can’t see that you need to do it, then that’s almost worse, if you know what I mean. You are obviously looking at it from a more subjective point of view, which is great.

  5. maddy@writingbubble

    Sounds quite empowering! I always keep what I cut as it is hard to see the words go. but as Emily said, they’re not wasted words and you haven’t wasted time writing them – they got you to where you are now which is a good place! Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting xx

  6. Chrissie@muddledms

    I’ve only ever got to full second draft once. Reduced a 54k draft to a 48k one, which doesn’t sound that bad until you realise a lot of the material in the second draft was new.
    It feels like a never-ending job, doesn’t it? Sounds like you’re very aware of yourself, the story and your writing. though, which makes it easier.
    Good luck x


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