Thursday, October 27, 2011


From the Speakers: ALL ALONG THE WATCHTOWER by Jimi Hendrix

I think Earnest Hemingway was the one who said to writers, "Kill your darlings." I could be wrong about that credit, but regardless, the point is that writers shouldn't keep good work in their story just because it's good. It has to belong. In other words, if a particular analogy or sentence or whole scene is good on it's own, that's not enough to warrant a place in your story.

I'm pretty sure it was Stephen King who said the formula is: Final draft = First draft minus 10%. (If you couldn't tell, the part of my memory that records quotation credits is shaky at best.) This means that, during the revision process, you should always be taking things out of your story, not putting things in. I tend to be a putter-inner, by nature--there's always just a little bit more I want to say--but a few years of laborious training has (almost) broken me of these tendencies.

It was a big paradigm shift for me to start thinking of editing as "removal" rather than "improvement." But the two go hand in hand. Interestingly, when you look up synonyms to "editing" in Microsoft Word, you get these words: excision, removal, deletion, erasure, expurgation. Antonym? Insertion.

I bring this up because I spent a huge chunk of yesterday trying to weed out words to get a 4500 word story down to 4000 so I could submit to Ray Gun Revival--they read it, offered some ideas, and requested a resubmission. But they like their stories to remain under 4000, so I felt I should oblige. It was tough, but, like every time I've gone on a weeding mission (as I call these efforts), the finished story is much stronger, and you don't miss what's no longer there.

(On a side note, one of the best weeding missions I ever did was for a friend. She had an essay for some application that had to be 500 words, and it was over 1000. She'd already cut it down from 1200, but there wasn't a single word she could do without. When I was done with it, it was 483 words, and she couldn't find where I had removed anything. Booyah.)


  1. If this is what I'm thinking it is, your numbers might be a little off, but the point remains: excellent weeding. thanks, dawg.

  2. haha it's not what you're thinking of, Jemily, but that, too, was an impressive weeding. If I do say so myself. And you're welcome--definitely got you the gig ;) jp.

    Thanks for checking out the blog!