Aug. 8, 2021: Cutting Words and Being Brief
One of the hardest things to do as an author is to cut words. To delete passages or scenes. Even just eliminating descriptions can be difficult.
As a 28-year educator, being brief is not a natural tendency for me. In the classroom, I must make sure my students understand the directions, expectations, and the content being delivered. That usually means long explanations or detailed discussions.
And I do not accept brief answers from my students. I want them to elaborate. I ask them to explain what they mean. I prompt them to go into more depth and share their process and connections with us.
Yet as a writer, cutting things out of our writing is a critical part of the revision process. After we have gotten the first draft down, we start to go back through the manuscript and look for places where we can eliminate redundancy or unimportant words, phrases, or passages.
As the author of middle grades novels, this has definitely been part of my process. But my recent foray into writing picture books has given me a whole new appreciation for being brief.
I recently had a critique session with an agent who had read one of my picture book manuscripts. It was a short 900 words and she had many positive things to say about the story and the writing. She did end though, with the fact that she thought I should hone it down to 500 words or less.
Cutting almost 400 words may sound easy, but I found it was torture. That was almost half of what I had written. In order to do that, I had to realize that in a picture book, the illustrations will eventually tell half of the story. That meant that as I looked at each word and every sentence, anything that could be shown through the illustrations, had to be eliminated. I had to trust that whomever the publisher gets to illustrate my story, will be insightful enough to know what must be included in the illustration, to more completely tell the story.
This kind of trust is not a natural trait for someone like me, who likes to be in control and tends to work best when doing it alone. But that is part of the process. That is what is required. As writers, when we cut words, and eliminate passages, we need to trust that the reader will still understand the message we are sharing. Because if we have done it correctly, we have pealed off unnecessary layers and exposed the heart of the story.