Not cutting. Not pruning. Not deleting.


It is brutal. And it is essential to the life of a writer. I’m not sure I’ve truly understood this before this month. I’ve always known cutting as a viable revision option. It’s one I’ve used for years.

It’s never hurt before. Maybe that’s because I haven’t done it right. Recently I revised the beginning of my first novel by hacking. Since I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve revised the lead (although I’m sure it is over a trillion), it’s not like I haven’t cut. I have. Cut. A lot.

A few weeks ago, though, I hacked.

It is much more difficult than cutting.

Hacking involves cutting parts you think are important and then reworking them with other parts you’ve hacked. Hacking means you have to squeeze your eyes shut and — wam — chunks fall away. Hacking is when you wonder if you are ruining the story and it will never, not ever, read like a story again. Hacking takes blind abandonment.

I sent Ruth the new version, along with my original query letter (also hacked). She said the words I needed to hear:

I can’t believe how cutting and reworking the beginning made the entire story stronger. And the query — yes! Why didn’t it read like that to start?

I didn’t cut.
I hacked.

I think I’m finally starting to recover from the experience.

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  1. I'm not even close to where you are, but even in the slices, I have difficulty. Don't we just love our words! I think I should take my advice to some students: cut half! They are not pleased with those words. And I do help them see what you said, to cut some, then combine the point into others, but still… Best wishes in the hacking! Perhaps if you used a beautiful silver sword?

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I may even share some of this with my students, when they get to that point in their writing that they realize that they have to take parts out and rework them.

  3. I think my dissertation could use some hacking – so hard to do, but I know that I will need to do so in the near future before submitting a draft to my committee!

    I am glad that you feel like your WIP is stronger because of the hacking, and I loved that this post captures how even though it is necessary at times, it is still hard.