Edit Ruthlessly!

In my first draft of Ghostwriter, I had a long scene about the anarchist bombings of 1919. I had to cut it and I was reluctant to do so. I told myself that it was important to establish the setting, necessary for the reader to understand the time period.

But, in the end, I had to admit it needed to go. There was no real reason for the scene. It didn't establish any necessary details about the story, reveal anything important about the characters, nor did it move the plot forward.

"But it's a great scene! One of my characters meets a historical figure most people have never heard of!"

Those who have read my story The Selkie Wife know how I love to indulge in historical detail. I'm a nerd. I like that sort of stuff. I once saw a post on a FF board which asked if The Selkie Wife had ever stopped being a history lesson and gone back to being a fanfiction story. They had a point.

But fanfiction is for fun. I could indulge my nerdy side a bit. A book is something entirely different. Authors who become self-indulgent drag down their own work. In the end, I found I could reduce the scene down to a single line and still convey what I needed for the story.

That's not to say it's easy. Writing is an intensely personal process for many authors and they have an emotional investment in their work. Being told that part of it doesn't work can actually hurt. It's like being told your child is ugly.

Stephen King once said that the best advice he ever got on editing was this:

In the spring of my senior year at Lisbon High—1966, this would’ve been-I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever.  Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot:  ‘Not bad, but PUFFY.  You need to revise for length.  Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%.  Good luck.”

I wish I could remember who wrote that note . . . .  Whoever it was did me a hell of a favor.  I copied the formula out on a piece of shirt-cardboard and taped it to the wall beside my typewriter.  Good things started to happen for me shortly after.”

Another of his quotes that I find particularly pertinent:
In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it 'got boring,' the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.


  1. Well, for what it's worth, I think that the way you took that scene out, but kept the information in the dialog...WORKS!

  2. Very interesting information, Lissa. Hard to do, but essential.


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