Sunday, 20 November 2011

20th November 2011 – Editing with a chainsaw.

There’s been a lot of discussion on FB and the groups over the last few days on the subject of converting a first draft of a piece into something worthy of submission to a publisher or agent. Most of the “old hands” come down firmly on one side of the debate, and most of the more inexperienced authors come down on the other.

There’s an old adage in publishing, and a large number of well established authors lend pretty vocal support to the concept that, the second draft should be 10% shorter than the first draft. In other words, the second draft will be tighter, faster paced and will have had a few scenes, which added nothing to the plot, removed. Back in the days when all you had was a typewriter this wasn’t an easy process and you actually had to think long and hard about each cut or change, this was a major deal. Nowadays with modern word-processors it’s much easier and sometimes an author can get a little carried away – the chainsaw metaphor.

(Having said that, we stayed in Wales last year and in the middle of the park was a beautiful tree sculpture done with a chainsaw, so sometimes it can be the right artistic tool.)

The less seasoned writers tend to be far more protective of the words they’ve spend so long meticulously crafting. For them, cutting is like harming their own children, something they just won’t do. It’s a psychological block which they have a great deal of trouble getting their head around.

I think, there is one mental trick that can provide a solution for the reluctant pruners here and it’s about visualising the end result. The more experienced authors will visualise the end product they are going to pitch as the book. The less experienced visualise their product as the words. In simple terms I’m sure you can see how important the difference is, where the emotional attachment sits. If you are emotionally attached to the book rather than the words, then culling words feels far less emotional than culling seals does to the squeamish among us.

By the way, I’m not suggesting culling seals with a chainsaw either!

Just to throw another metaphoric concept at you, my next blog is going to be all about opening and closing doors.

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