What’s the most fun part of writing? For me, it’s the editing. I know a lot of writers hate that stage, some refuse to even do it. They’ll finish the first draft, MAYBE read it over one more time to make sure everything’s spelled correctly, and out into the world it goes.
I call those people writers. The people who take the time to EDIT their work, change things, take out the bits that don’t work, emphasize the bits that do, and generally work the story into a tight knot of tension and release, I call those people Writers.
One of the most important parts of editing is the taking out of things that don’t work or that don’t contribute to the story, and a huge part of that process is taking out the pretty bits.
We all do it, we write that certain turn of phrase, that metaphor, that line of description and we think, “Man, I didn’t even know I was capable of coming up with something like that!”
We’ve all done it, and it’s got to go.
Faulkner said “In writing, you must kill all your darlings,” but he’s not the only one.
Samuel Johnson said, “Read over your compositions and whenever you meet with a passage that you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”
Arthur Quiller-Couch said, “If you require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it–wholeheartedly–and delete it before sending your manuscript to press.”
And French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette said, “Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”
Why do we do this? More importantly, why MUST we do this? Because they don’t add anything. A lot of the time, they don’t even fit. Be honest without yourself and re-read the story, or the section of the story, without that pretty bit in there. I bet the story makes just as much sense, gets to the point a lot quicker without it, and you didn’t even notice the absence. Now admit the only reason you wanted to keep it is because your ego said it was so much better than what you normally write, you wanted everyone to see how clever you were with words.
Those flowery parts have to go, they only serve to distract the reader, without adding anything at all to the plot, and anything that distracts the reader from the plot is death to the story overall. The reader knows how clever and talented you are, that’s why they’re reading your story.
You don’t need to buy their affection with baubles that sparkle. You want a reader to like and trust you even more? Don’t waste their time. Tell the story you need to tell, tell it as succinctly as you can and let them get back to their life. That is your only job.
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