Being able to edit your own writing is a great skill, but this variation on a theme is about chopping the important things you’ve been waiting too long to fix. Maybe the reason you haven’t been able to fix them is because they are un-fixable.
Sometimes you need a break. A walk can refresh the brain cells. A change of scenery can spark new thoughts. Taking out the trash, or doing some other small but worthy activity, can be a perfect palliative. Quick and focused, the sojourn lets you return to the keyboard undistracted and in better spirits.
But this article is not about taking out the trash in the real world. It’s about taking the trash out of your writing. The “trash” here are the little edits you are consistently stuck on. These stalls are classic targets for a good scrub. Seriously. All of them — just hack them out. There may be good reasons why you can’t resolve them. Excising these pesky crumbs of prose can reap many benefits, including the five listed below.
1. It improves the quality of your draft
Are there bits of your work that you just can’t fill in? You know they need fixing, but you keep skipping over them to work on other stuff? How about fixing them by cutting them out?
When you chop, you immediately improve your draft, like trimming a hedge. Now you have only good parts. You can see the shape better. You might now find it makes sense to rearrange or even to add new things that there was no space for before because of the trash bags piling up. Now you’ve cleared the way.
If the messy stuff was festering that long, it wasn’t helping you in the first place. It didn’t fit. It was holding you back. Many of these spots are leftovers from previous incarnations of a story or thought-bridges to places you don’t need anymore, given the way your story is developing. Reshaping is a way of letting the center of the story percolate up to the surface.
2. It allows you to see solutions
What if you threw out something important? If you’ve left a real gap in your text, chances are you can set about now filling it — for real and with success. To fix things you first need to see the real problem.
And now you can mend the story based on all the ideas you really want to keep, the ideas that are working for you. Now your solution will come from that palette and will fit into the fabric of the story. It will be a forward-looking solution that takes you new places.
3. You gain freedom of mind
Looking at a clutter-free draft does wonders for the mind. Mental baggage weighs you down. Now, you don’t have to keep all those nagging un-dones loaded up in your brain. Your mind is free of the shackles of the dead ends you’ve been pursuing.
Now you can think creatively instead of tripping over the trash all the time. No need to remember where it is and how to navigate around it. You can now run — free and fast — up and down the hallways looking for new rooms in the house of your book.
4. It acts as a time multiplier
Chopping is a time multiplier. You don’t have to keep skipping it, you don’t have to fix it, and you don’t have to waste time on subpar writing. It’s obviously not taking your mind in the right direction. Building this habit will pay dividends in the long run. Focus on writing the great stuff.
5. It helps you learn to let go
Doing this routinely, you become at ease with throwing away text. You realize you are more than capable enough to come up with more — and better. Being able to chop is a great skill, but this variation on a theme is about chopping the important things you’ve been waiting too long to fix. The point is, they may be unfixable.
You’ll also gain confidence to see the make-or-break points of your story. Everything else goes in the bin.
Cleaned up, your draft is a more enjoyable read. This means you are a big step closer to being able to send it out for feedback.
Removing the un-fixables from your writing is like a day at the spa or a swim in a beautiful lake and resting in the sun afterward. It’s healthy, freeing, and it opens you to new ideas and real solutions. If something is sticking in your craw that long, it probably has to go anyway!
If you do throw out a gold ring by mistake, you’ll immediately know it. You’ll work even harder to put it back in place, probably with a new appreciation of how beautiful and valuable it is. Chances are, though, you’ll never think about the trash you took out again, and that is a huge improvement to your current work.
A good walk may be the best writing exercise there is
A fun way to build your writing muscles
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Cut and Cut (and Cut Again) — The Self-edit Credo
Scrivener and My Case Study in Organizing a Novel