I love editing. I’ve just deleted 2625 words from a current project and couldn’t be happier. I didn’t follow Stephen King’s rule in his book On Writing: “2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%”, mostly because this isn’t my first draft. I’m happy with losing the 4% that I did cut.
This is a manuscript that I haven’t looked at in a while. It’s amazing how time gave me a different perspective on the words I left behind on earlier edits because I was a little too fond of my own cleverness. Over the last few days, I’ve been much more ruthless. This time I followed the advice of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings.”
I was hardly responsible for “exceptionally fine writing” but I certainly was responsible for a mess of poetic but highly dumpable similes and images that were very pretty but cried out for deletion. They didn’t move the story along or develop my characters; they were just my fancy wordplay interrupting the story.
So, 2625 “darling” words are gone. I’ve learned that, just because writing is hard work, the effort of writing alone doesn’t mean that the words get to claim their territory forever. Is the book better for my edits? I think so. Will it sell? Who knows, but it’s out for a viewing on Monday, and the rest is out of my hands.
Do you think a lot about your manuscript after it’s sent and check your email hourly, or do you move on to the next project? My choice is to move on. The decision will be made by one person on one day and my writing life is about more than that. If I’m lucky enough to get some feedback, I’ll be thrilled. If it’s a “thanks, but no thanks.” I’ve already moved on and am, I hope, enjoying the company of new characters in a new story and once again writing my doomed “darlings.”
Do you have your own “darlings” that you know you will be cutting even as you write them?
What do you do after you’ve sent a manuscript to a publisher?