Saturday, February 07, 2009

"Make it shorter!": Another Trick

Lincoln's birthday is coming up, I guess, and Adam made a poster of Lincoln for a school project. He asked me if I would "type up" some of the stories I've told him about Lincoln's sons, so he could staple it to the poster.

I said I had something written already -- but he didn't like it. He wanted me to delete all of it, start over, and "make it shorter. I just want the funny parts." I did, taking out even stuff *I* really liked such as Lincoln's good-bye (and to me tear-inducing) to the people of Springfield. Though I miss that part, the cuts vastly improved the piece.

And I wrote so much faster! I wish I could always have Adam in the room while I write. The approved draft was only one page. He wanted me to make two copies, "so I can give one to my teacher," and sign both. When I woke up the next morning, I couldn't resist doing a few parts over -- I drove them to Adam's house before school and he agreed that it was better with these (few) additions. It still all fit on one page.

This "make it shorter" (hearing it in Adam's voice, especially) is a great mantra -- for me, anyway. And I've found a trick that makes cutting thing I like easy. This is it: don't delete them, cross them out with Strikethrough. That way, the words are still there--I can tell myself that I can use them someplace else if I need to. But I won't. I don't even read them them when I'm revising-- and I bet when I get to the final draft, I'll delete them without reading them then, either.

This may all be really obvious but for me it's a liberation from the time I used to waste deciding and agonizing. I know some people save all editing and rewriting until they get everything done; but I like doing it this way. It saves time. And, by crossing out not deleting , I can count how many words I've written without doing mental arithmetic: "Really more because I took out those two pages...."etc.

The crossing out is just plain satisfying -- like bringing drab clothes to Goodwill and seeing how much more space there is in your closet.


gael lynch said...

Love it, Libby. I am full of blarney...usually just go back and weed out, and like you, feel completely liberated. Same holds true for the Good Will bags...I can't ever remember what I've thrown out once it's all gone. I'm always holding onto three times more than I need! Strikethrough's a great idea though too, because I also have a tendency to over-trim.

alvinaling said...

I think the single most common comment I make on manuscripts is "tighten" which is just another way of saying "Make it shorter!"

Think of it this way: you're making more room for the good stuff!

(Okay, I just stole that from Laurie Halse Anderson's Facebook status message where she says:
Laurie Halse Anderson is cutting out the boring bits to make room for a little more magic.)

Libby Koponen said...

Thanks Gael! And Alvina, I love the quote.

btw Adam's fondness for shortness is not limited to books. His take on the video:
"How much longer is this?" He only had two others:
"WHy aren't you wearing your glasses?"
"Because I look better without them."
"I think you look better with them -- more like yourself." Pause. "Always look like yourself."
And, while Jarret was sitting in front of his sketch pad: