Murder Your Words: Be Ruthless in Revision

This is a photo taken of a peer revision comme...
This is a photo taken of a peer revision comment from a writing class. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In his seminal book On Writing, Stephen King advised writers to “kill your darlings.”  A variation I’ve heard is “Murder your children.”

No, we’re not talking about a crime that will land you 25 to life. We’re talking about being utterly ruthless in revising and editing your work.

Any piece of writing becomes the writer’s child: You conceived it, you gave birth to it, you nurtured, clothed and fed it, and you will one day send it out into the world to make you proud. 

But, as any parent knows, sometimes children don’t turn out so well. Good parents, of course, love their children anyway.

Writing, however, is not something you should accept as-is.  Mediocrity breeds antipathy in readers. If you’re not excited about your work, how can you expect the reader to be?

That’s why writers have to become murderers—murderers of their own words.

Sounds extreme?

It is.

I learned this lesson anew when I recently went back and re-read some of the earlier chapters of my novel-in-progress, The Power Club. The story I had slaved over for months was good—but just good.

Writers, your new mantra: “Good enough is never good enough.”

So I wrote a new version of Chapter 1 and sent it out to my critiquing group. They raved over the improvements, but one member suggested even more drastic changes: cutting out the entire first half of the chapter, beginning the story with the mid chapter break, and filling in the previous information as needed.

My initial reaction?

Drat! More work. I thought this book was finished. I thought this writing gig was supposed to be easy . . .

No, I’m not being hypocritical. Although I said in a previous post that writing never gets easier, it’s perfectly human to have such thoughts. Besides, I didn’t ignore his advice. I gave his suggestion a shot, and I think he’s right:  the new beginning improves the story dramatically. 

Of course, this means other revisions have to be made . . .

But the bottom line is this: I want a book that’s going to set the world on fire, not wallow on the shelves and beg readers to pick it up. Experience has taught me that I don’t remember the struggles that led to self-improvement. What I remember instead are the feelings of pride and accomplshment. What I gain through the effort is self-confidence.

So, go ahead: Murder your words. Killing them makes you and your book stronger.


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