Greats like Stephen King do it.
Ordinary Joes like me do it.
Countless professional writers have come to rely upon this technique for producing reliably good novels without the glitches and problems that plague so many books.
It’s called the Write Longer, Then Cut 30% technique.
Why does writing longer and then trimming always improve your work? Aren’t some writers geniuses who can write beautifully their first time around the block?
The simple fact is that any piece of long writing produced by any writer at any level has, by everyone’s definition including the writer involved, some stuff that represents some of the best the author can do, some stuff that is merely good, and some stuff that is lacking relative to that writer’s best ability. So if you write long enough to allow room to trim - or long enough to force you to trim - you will always, always, always trim your least effective work and leave your best.
Let me restate that. If you force yourself to trim 30% of your novel, you will never throw out the passages that make you cry or roar with laughter or get especially thoughtful. You will never throw out the passages that generate a thousand new ideas or make you want to take notes or stop and memorize the lines. You will never throw out the passages that make your heart race or make you worry or fearful or engage in any other powerful emotion. In short, the potent, emotionally-charged parts of your book, the parts that make readers stop and order all of your other titles, those are the parts you will keep. Your best stuff, right? That is the stuff you will never throw out.
So what will you throw out? You’ll toss the slow exposition, the telling instead of showing, the rambling stuff you think the reader should probably know even though they can figure out what’s going on without it. You’ll throw out the lines that are too clever and call attention to themselves at the expense of the story. You’ll throw out the adolescent scene with the too-beautiful woman and the too-hunky guy. You’ll throw out that interesting segue that doesn’t really advance the plot or the characterization. You’ll throw out the scenes that only exist to make you, the writer, look smart but don’t do a thing for the story.
Imagine a professor has given you an assignment of writing a 500-page manuscript. You did the job and turned it in. Then she told you to cut it to 350 pages. No one needs to tell you what to cut. Why? Because you’ll simply go through and delete every possible thing that can go without hurting the story.
Wait, what did you just do? You took out stuff that can be tossed without hurting the story.
In sum, write substantially longer than you think you need, then force yourself to trim. The improvement in your story will surprise you.
Of course, some writers will think that they are the ones who don’t need to do this. “I can trim in my head before I put it down on paper.”
Maybe. But when your book comes out, if your sales are lackluster, you might wonder if you should have followed Stephen King’s advice. And if your sales are good, you might wonder how much better they could have been...
Point made, ’nuff said.
I gotta go start trimming...