I’ve made the 1st draft of the 5th draft (got that?), and my cut file is getting close to the manuscript in size:
cut file: 62,000 words
manuscript: 86,000 words
My theory is that when the cut file equals the manuscript in size, the novel will be finished.
I instructed my last editor that I wanted the novel to be shorter. (Shorter is better, if it can be done.) I asked her to suggest things that could be cut: and she did, with excellent judgement.
Of course each cut hurts! I’m attached to these scenes, these characters. They’ve survived countless revisions.
It’s never easy, but it’s often essential.
I remember vividly making my first significant cut to my first novel (The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.) I walked into the living room and announced to my husband, “I just cut my favourite scene.” I felt both stunned and proud. I felt it was a rite of passage—that in doing this, I’d somehow become a real writer.
The wonderful writer Penelope Fitzgerald routinely cut her manuscripts by half. She is a excellent model to follow.
So: be brave, get out the bandages and rye, and cut. Be ruthless. Your novel will be stronger for it.
[Just be sure to put all your cuts in a file; they make excellent compost.]
It looks like plans are going ahead for me to go to France next month to be interviewed for a documentary that’s being made about Josephine. Exciting!
How perfect that Ed, my wonderful Romanian typist, will have finished keyboarding the Trilogy for Sandra Gulland Ink (my e-publishing venture), so I will have reread them. It has been a Very Long Time since I’ve been in Josephine’s world.
It will be impossible for me to read the Trilogy without making some changes—but I promise not to cut.
I’m confused. Personally, I never want your books to end so to me, longer is better. Why do you have to cut things that I probably want to read??? Why can’t you just leave it all in there and those who want to skip it can and those who want to savour every word can do that too?
Dear Joy, Thank you so much! That’s very sweet of you … but writing is all about creating “lift-off”—and that only comes with many revisions, AND quite a bit of cutting. The boggy bits sink a narrative: trust me!
[I’m posting this from a reader who is unable to post comments directly.]
I concur, as a general rule, that “shorter is better” and that streamlining cuts almost always bring a book closer to, not farther away from, perfection.However, being a fan of all things Louis XIV, I nonetheless mourn the loss of all the familiar faces and fun little period details that will inevitably be jettisoned in such a brutal, if necessary, trimming. Sigh…
Bravo! And so encouraging to hear.
Thank you, Lilian!