Recently, I received this note from Toby Stein, a gifted writer and editor,* and wanted to share her creative editing approach:
“Some months ago, I discovered that my manuscript was nearly 200 pages too long to be welcome by agents or editors. In today’s book world, manuscripts as long as mine were almost asking to be rejected — unless you happened to be someone with a big name. That much I knew. I had to do more than “trim” my manuscript; I had to cut a huge part of it out. Instead of fretting about that, I started with page one, and cut every extra word or phrase. Soon I noticed that my deletions did not cripple my work, they made it even more accessible. (I am a committed fan of accessibility.) I kept going, paragraph by paragraph, cutting some, tightening a larger number, moving others around for clarity’s sake. In the end, I cut 190 pages–of which only four were deleted in their entirety. I felt mighty good. Still do. “
There’s so much to admire here! A few takeaways for us all to apply:
Approach revision objectively, with an editor’s eagle eye: The decision to cut a large part of a manuscript can be daunting – 200 pages is a huge chunk of text! But instead of “fretting” about it, focus on the job at hand. Step back. View your pages without “fear or favor” – dispassionately – and dive in. Cut dangerously!
Do laser – then, major — surgery on your text: Start cutting gingerly and you’ll grow bolder. Like Toby, start “with page one, and cut every extra word or phrase.” Then, keep going, “paragraph by paragraph” – trimming some, tightening others. Work through your manuscript methodically, page by page. Some cuts will be laser-focused; others will require major surgery – cutting sections or even pages. Go where your editing process takes you.
Embrace the benefits that deletions deliver: When we trim our work courageously, as Toby noted, it becomes “more accessible” – clearer, more readable. Time and again, I’ve found that cutting doesn’t “cripple” my work, but increases its clarity. Sometimes it reveals the story within a story. When we see greater clarity as the end game – the goal of our revision process, then cutting becomes intensely satisfying. Like gardeners, we “trim” our text so it can blossom forth and bear fruit for our readers. Bravo, Toby – edit on!
* An established writer and seasoned editor, Toby works with “both fiction and non-fiction, from business books to memoirs-in-progress” (email@example.com).
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