Trim the fat, leave the muscle and bone

When I was younger, I used to think the real trick of writing was knowing how to get the right words on the page. That’s no small feat, to be sure, but as I begin to work toward becoming a published writer, I’m realizing thats less than half the battle.

For example, I’m preparing a submission for a BDSM anthology. After pulling together my first draft, I found myself over 6,000 words — well over the 5k limit. Even now, after trimming the fat, removing redundancy and squeezing the air out of it, it’s about 400 words too heavy.

I know from experience that the result of all this brutal editing will be a better, tighter piece but that doesn’t make it easier to do.  Sometimes, I’m forced to cut words and phrases, or whole paragraphs, that I was very proud to have written.  They get cut not because they’re poorly written, necessarily, but in service to the over all story.  Once I’m editing, it’s not about me anymore, it’s about the story — what does it need, how should it be told, what contributes to that goal and what’s the dead weight?

My formal training as a writer was limited to some journalism in high school and college, with the normal raft of English classes and the occasional creative writing class.   Maybe that’s why I feel like there should have been more instruction in editing.  Maybe if I’d gone to school to become a writer, I’d have gotten more training on that side of the desk.  As it is, I’m mostly self-taught.  A lot of my practice has come from editing the work of others, and I’ve tried to use that experience on myself.  When I’ve got my editing hat on, I try to separate from my writer’s ego, taking a more technical view of the work.  This works best when I have some time between the writing and the editing phases, time to pull away from it a bit.

Unfortunately, for the piece I’m working on, I didn’t have much time between phases.  I didn’t start this piece in earnest until earlier this week, and it’s due next Saturday.  Luckily, I’m not the sole editor, I get the benefit of Roxy‘s excellent eye and sensibility.  With her excellent advice, I’ve gone from the machete to the surgeon’s steel, and I think the result will be something worth publishing and hopefully, something we’ll be proud to have worked on together.

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