Self-Editing; What to cut

Writing is rewriting.

When you’re writing, you’re all over the place in creativity and flow. When you’re rewriting, you are tidying up, restoring the order so your writing stays on track.

Polishing: Smoothing the reading. For example: changing words or phrases

Rewriting: reworking elements of the story to make it more immediate and dramatic. For example: adding or cutting characters. Adding or cutting scenes.

Self-editing starts with cutting

The clutter rule: anything that is not directly serving to move the story along is clutter and must go.

You start with cutting.  You’re focusing the lens to create a sharper image. You’re discovering where the gaps are and what’s needed to fill them. This is brutal. Think stabbing a person to death – brutal. Cutting forces you to decide what truly belongs and what doesn’t. Often times, this is done by feeling. The better you master the craft of writing, the better you can reason why something does or doesn’t belong.Go over every word, every line, every paragraph, every scene, every chapter and consider how the story would be without it. Take it out, put it aside. Did you story get weaker or stronger? Does it need more cutting? Cut until you end up with a piece that works for you. Now the material you relate to the most, will stand out from the rest.

Here’s a list of must-cuts

  • Needles qualifiers such as “very”. They weaken the mental imagery.
  • Qualifiers: cut weak qualifiers such as: a little / a bit / rather / sort of/ kind of/ quite/ very/ pretty/ slightly/ mostly
  • Needless connectors, such as “because”. They lead to unnecessarily long sentences, which slows the pace.
  • Redundant words, such as “the maroon red lamp”. Once will do.
  • Redundant phrases, such as “she thought to herself”. Unless she can plant thoughts into other people’s minds, this phrase is redundant.
  • Repetition. Trust your reader. Spare him excess information. Only repeat if necessary to refocus the reader’s attention, reinforce understanding, create humour effect or signal story events.
  • 15% of your total word count. Yes, it hurts. Putting your story on a diet forces you to cut off all the excess fat with critical eyes.
  • When in doubt – leave it out!

Carroll, D. L. (1995) A manual of writer’s tricks.
Hall, R. (2014) Writing Vivid Settings.