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