Finding the Courage to Make Sweeping Edits

Sometimes (usually when I’m procrastinating) I’ll dig through my writing box. It’s basically a clear plastic bin where scraps of thoughts go to die (or miraculously grow into strong stories). Every so often I’ll run across some writing that recaptures my attention and sucks me into the world I created; it’s a process that usually ends in disappointment because I learn the hard way that I forewent the denouement. But in this particular case, I found a manuscript that I’d set aside to mature.

Although it had a beginning, middle, and end, I only thought of it as 97% finished–I couldn’t put my finger on why though. Now I think I’m a bit closer to that understanding. I stopped counting the number of times someone has offered up the advice: Don’t marry your words. What they cleverly forget to mention is that there’s a marriage license at every carriage return or new line. And with this particular manuscript, when I finished I thought, That scene in chapter X didn’t really serve a purpose, but it was so beautiful. Still, the fact was: The marriage wasn’t working out.

Removing that scene, however, would mean eliminating an entire character who I’ve grown to love. In fact, I feel somewhat guilty because it’s nothing this character did wrong–on the contrary, she lived up to every task I gave her with nary a complaint–it’s just that I shouldn’t have been giving her any tasks at all, at least not within this story. Ultimately she’s the one paying for my error in judgement.

All of that aside, I knew I still had work to do and that included chopping a few scenes, excising this character, and filling in a few blanks left by the sweeping edits. The key I found, at least for me personally, is constant reminders that removing a scene or character is not akin to murder. The character continues to exist and might even be ideal for another story when the occasion arises. That knowledge is where my courage to edit comes from.

(Not to mention that I always set aside the scenes and character dossiers from the sweeping alterations I make so they’re not really gone gone, just taking a hiatus.)

I hope when all is said and done, I can set that manuscript back into The Box and when I take it out again for another read, it will grip my attention fully and I won’t be left thinking something didn’t fit or that something else was missing. But I guess that’s all any writer can hope for, isn’t it?

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