Monday, January 18, 2016


A popular post from April 2011

By: Julie Wright

Today I cut 40 pages out of my work in progress. Even the Dr. Pepper and chocolate bar didn’t make this surgery any less painful, but it had to happen. If the leg is infecting the rest of the body, cut the leg off and save the body.

These forty pages were infecting the manuscript, so I cut them out—to save the manuscript.

It hurt.

A lot.

I did save them over in a cuts document (a little trick I learned from Josi Kilpack) so that if I need to mine something out of those forty pages, I can. But now I have fresh pages to work with. I can recreate the cut out part into something that functions with the rest of the manuscript. If I’d simply tried to edit those pages and force them to fit (which I did try to do for a few weeks until I finally realized I was being stubborn) I would have put the entire manuscript in jeopardy.

I’ve done a lot of editing over the years with Precision Editing Group, and there have been times where I’ve had to advise people to cut out huge hunks of their manuscripts. I don’t know if they always take my advice, but it’s something I don’t hand out lightly. Telling someone to carve away ten or more pages is almost as cruel as having to do it on my own manuscripts. I feel their pain and feel guilt for inflicting it on them. I only advise it when I genuinely believe there’s no way to salvage those pages.

It took a long time for me to understand what other writers meant when they said “kill your darlings.” I’d cut out a few words and figure I’d done the job asked of me. But it’s so much more than that. Killing your darlings isn’t about changing a passive voice to active. It isn’t about slicing off the errant adverb. It’s sometimes cutting the stuff you love.

There was some seriously good writing in those forty pages I amputated this morning. There were things that made me laugh. There was some new sci-fi technology that thrilled me. There was a heart pounding action scene that made me wonder if my characters would ever survive it. There were new creatures that were so awesome, I can’t believe they came out of my head. I cut all of them. They were darling to me, but I cut them all. The scenes were great, but they didn’t push towards the overall arc of the story. They didn’t *work*

That’s what they mean by killing your darlings. It hurts, but if something isn’t working after weeks or longer of trying to force it, the problem might not be the glue you’re using to force it all to stick . . . the problem might be your unwillingness to use the scissors.

Now, I feel a certain relief with those pages moved away from the body of the manuscript. It’s another chance. And another chance is refreshing—filled with hope and possibility.


Anna said...

My WIP needs that kind of surgery. I wrote the beginning and I wrote the ending. I've filled in a good chunk of the middle and I like most of it. But this one part .... it needs surgery and I am just not ready to do it.

So... it is now on the back burner. My creative juices just weren't flowing on it. So I started another WIP and have written 7000 words in just a few weeks.

Sherry said...

It does hurt. You work hard on a scene only to have to cut it later.

I've always done the same thing when deleting a hunk of text. I save my scenes in a folder marked: DELETED SCENES

I figure I might be able to use it in a different book or I might use a paragraph or sentence or two somewhere else in my MS.

And, Anna--it is true what they say about leaving a MS alone for several weeks then going back to it. It will be easier to make the changes then, when you're not so close to your story. Then slice away! :-)

Annette Lyon said...

Painful at times, but necessary. Great post, Julie!

Heather B. Moore said...

Tough to do!

Botanist said...

I've not been that drastic - yet - but I'm dreading the day when I find I have to. I've cut lots of favourite smaller pieces, and that hurt quite enough. Why is it always the bits you really love that have to go?

Excellent advice about saving the trimmings in a separate document, too.