by Deborah Owen
When creative writers think of parenting, they normally think of someone biologically bearing a child, but there is more than one kind of parent. There is the unmarried parent, the divorced parent, the parent-to-be, the adoptive parent, to name a few. And then, there’s parenting the created word. Although it may not conjure up the same status as that of physical parenting, the labor is just as real.
Every writer knows their words are their babies, and heaven help the critic who says we should edit even more. Not only is it unforgivable, it cuts to the core of our being. This is one area where writers’ groups provide an invaluable service. There’s no better place to grow a thick skin than in a writer’s group. After all, would you rather hear stinging criticism from another newbie, or from an editor who runs over you with cleat shoes?
Be Your Own Toughest Critic
There is a simple trick to avoid this kind of literary suffering, and that is to murder your own babies. You will recognize the right babies to murder when the critic part of you cries out, “That doesn’t really fit,” and the author section cries out, “but I like it!” You know in your heart it’s time to pull out your scalpel and begin cutting. Although the wound will bleed, you will know you are maturing as a writer.
But far better than discarding the phrase altogether, copy, and drop it into a special file. One of these days, you will find the perfect place for that phrase.
The best time to murder your babies is when you edit for verbiage (wordiness). Learn to say the same thing in fewer words. Trim away the fat and leave only the lean. That means edit scenes, edit dialogue, and edit the plot in general. Brevity is the key ingredient that must stay. Say it with less. Say it better. Jazz your verbs.
Especially look for prepositional phrases. Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you should never have more than three prepositional phrases to a sentence and not more than two in consecutive order.
Let’s be honest – all writers use padding. It is a little-thought-of procedure whereby we writers drag out a scene or dialogue – usually because we can’t find the right words or we’re having a bad time writing.
Have you ever seen a comedian who has his pulse on the audience and then makes the mistake of dragging a joke on… and on… and on… like a plane that can’t find a landing field? That’s a sure sign of someone enjoying their 15 minutes of fame and not wanting it to end. It’s the same thing with us writers. We have the audience in the palms of our hands and we hate to let them go. But let them go we must, because the readers need time to rest their minds so they can better absorb the chunks of meat they have yet to digest.
So the next time you’re editing, get the scalpel and bandages out. Prepare to dissect and dismember your baby. Although you may barely survive, your baby will be the better for it.
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