Cut Until It Hurts

Editing a manuscript reminds me of pruning.

Sometimes you have to cut off perfectly good branches, perfectly good characters, perfectly good scenes, so that the story can flourish.

Proper pruning enhances the beauty of almost any landscape tree and shrub, while improper pruning can ruin or greatly reduce its landscape potential. In most cases, it is better not to prune than to do it incorrectly. In nature, plants go years with little or no pruning, but man can ruin what nature has created. By using improper pruning methods healthy plants are often weakened or deformed.

So while it's important to cut our work, it's also imperative we know what we're doing.

How do you prune without ruining your work? Have you ever overedited? Took advice when you shouldn't have?


Yes, I have overedited. I had more than seven opinions going into one work and it became overwhelming. Thankfully a skilled writer took me under her wing and helped me start from scratch and do some worthy line edits to the piece.

I was much happier.

This reminds me of how God prunes us.

~ Wendy
Jennifer Shirk said…
Well, I tend to edit as I go, which is probably why I've been stuck on chapter 3 of my wip for 2 weeks.
I was just telling my crit partners that when I edit I cut out a lot but end up with a higher word count. LOL
I guess it's like pulling all the weeds and then planting new seeds.
Jessica Nelson said…
Oh Wendy, that would be so hard! Seven!!! Wow. Thank goodness for that author, right? I'm glad you're happier now, and yeah, pruning definitely reminds me of God.

Jennifer! Oh no, LOL. I hate getting stuck. Good example with the seeds!
Linda Kage said…
What an awesome comparison. Love it. I'm sure I've trimmed too much before. I remember going back after too sever a cut once and plumping my story back up. Thank goodness you can re-add words back to your story, though you can't re-add leaves back to your bushes.

By the way, I have an award for you over at my blog.
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL Linda, very true about the bushes. I'm glad you were able to plump your story back up!
anita said…
Another fabulous analogy from the BQE! ;-)

I always revise and prune in a new document, so the original story doesn't get skewered. That way, if I take out more than I should have, I can always go back into the original and find those words again.

Have a great day in the blogasphere, Jessie!
Patti said…
I keep multiple copies in case I change my mind.
Nancy J. Parra said…
Oh my, yes, I spent a few years lost to over editing. I thought the reason I wasn't selling was because I didn't "follow" all the rules and my CG was happy to point out all the things I did wrong. But the more I "cleaned" up the work- the fewer hand written rejections I got until all I saw was form rejections. When I broke free of the fear of making a mistake (And my CG -who I loved) I sold. Crazy, right?
I think of pruning, too, Jessie! Ouch, but the finished product is lovely. If you don't over-prune!

I tend towards wordiness, so I rarely over edit. It's harder to add to a ms than subtract from it. Like grafting branched onto a tree, huh?
Jessica Nelson said…
Jeanette, it is SO hard to add to a manuscript. I'm doing it now and ouch, ouch, ouch!

Nancy, that's very interesting, and I can't say I'm surprised. Kudos to you for recognizing the problem and writing how you needed to write instead.

Good idea, Patti!

Anita, yep, that's the way to do it!
And, YOU'RE alive!!! :-)

Good to be in contact again, Jessica! And, yes, I have pruned WRONG way to many times. Still learning how to do it properly!
Jessica Nelson said…
Me too, Eileen. I hope all is well with you. :-)
Great post! I edit a lot as I go, and then I have amazing trust in my CP - she's almost always right. My problem is usually needing to ADD more stuff. :-)
Stephanie Faris said…
Ahhhh, good analogy. Sometimes those cuts hurt, but we have to do it!
When I had to change a girl character to a boy, I felt like I was bumping off one of my own children!!

But once I got over it and just DID it, the new guy turned out to be great!
Tana said…
Pruning, reseeding, watering all of the above! Is your agent an editorial agent? I think that helps too. I actually don't mind editing too much.
Patti Lacy said…
Girl, I have been pruning until my hands have blisters and STILL think the two books I've been DYING OVER could use MORE!!!!!



I have not over cut.

Anonymous said…
I'm still learning the pruning process. My next step is to take my work to a writer-in-residence at our university. I'm sure he'll be cutting with the right tools in the right spots! And hopefully I'll then get a few pruning tools of my own.
Diane said…
I am in the process of writing and query letter and have gotten all kinds of pruning advice and now I am totally confused. Hoping it will work out and land on the right desk! :O)
Amy DeTrempe said…
The first time I pruned and deleted scenes and some chapters I think I was ill. I loved them, but they really didn't contribute to the story. The first novel I wrote was 225,000 - so ya, there was a lot of pruning. I've gotten better and it isn't so painful now.
Hi Jess -

After writing short, non-fiction pieces, I have the opposite problem. I once re-wrote my entire book because I needed 30,000 more words.

Susan :)
Jennie Allen said…
I swear I jsut started writing and I can't stop editing the first part I have- must move on. I will be an over-editor- sure of it!
Jessie Oliveros said…
Good point. People talk so much about cutting, but I like your perspective...cut carefully.
Nancy said…
Yours is the only article I've ever seen on overpruning (editing.) Pruning incorrectly - that is thought proviking. I want to be sure that doesn't happen. I believe that most of what I cut was pretty bad or not needed in the plot. Such a good thing to ponder however.
Mary E Hanks said…
The deer around my place over-prune my bushes! I wish they would keep their chompers off of my baby trees, but they keep returning over and over. This is a picture of me editing. I keep coming back over and over, seeing something yummy to add or subtract each time I look at my writing. I have a hard time knowing when to stop. I think I'm addicted to the editing process.
Karen Lange said…
Yeah, I've tweaked too much on occasion. Not fun when the time comes (if possible) to fix it.
Have a great weekend:)
I have cut and repasted many times. The thought of cutting out chunks always makes me nervous. :)
Angie Muresan said…
I doubt I have ever pruned anything. I usually leave that to my husband. But I do edit like crazy, making sure I copy my original and changes as I go along.
Deb Shucka said…
I love the questions you pose here. As I write the first draft of this current incarnation of my memoir, I'm being intentionally wordy, giving myself lots of room to trim later. I love the save as feature in Word because it allows me to play around without losing anything important.
Dara said…
I have overedited but I also keep all the old drafts, so if I need to go back to the "original" (or draft #2 or #3) I can. It can get a little confusing having a bunch of old drafts and sometimes time consuming to look for the scene that I "overedited" but I find it works.
Terri Tiffany said…
Sometimes I have edited the story right out of my story and I am careful now to go with what I think will work.

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