Written materials are top candidates for decluttering
Not all writing is sacred. Oh no no no. If we kept every word we wrote, writers would all be living in a midden of our own making.
Most writing needs radical surgery before it works
When it comes to poems and plays and novels and other books, killing your darlings, as they say, is mandatory. Don’t take this literally: it just means ripping out whole verses and passages and chapters that you love in order to get the book into shape.
Books of poems seem to shed at least a third of their contents in the process of publication. Sometimes I’ve had to dump entire manuscripts. The good news: usually the book emerges in a new and better form. Humming, my favourite novel so far, was only half its original length when finally published.
Word purging is different from stuff purging in one respect
With stuff, matter, actual thingamebobs, we sometimes know within minutes or days when something is redundant. That garment you got from the op shop without thinking. That book you bought just to save embarrassment. That gift you hated on sight but accepted out of courtesy. Words, by contrast, often need to lie fallow before you can spot the useless layabouts cluttering up your message and polluting your clarity.
Still, essentially, those surplus words just have to go.
Age and experience are major assets when editing
For most young writers and new writers, making those incisions is painful. They care, they care! Every word is a special needs word that needs cosseting and praise and preservation.
Far more cunning, old writers and experienced writers understand when and why they should hide a piece of personal writing away for a while. And if a deadline looms, they have rules of thumb that make easy to cut and control a manuscript very quickly.
Bonus when you switch from professional writing to personal or literary writing
Old writers get pretty smart at cutting to the chase.
Here’s a thrilling truth for journalists and corporate writers. One day you’ll finally have time for that book you’ve been longing to write. Could be that you lack confidence to switch to a completely new genre. You may feel you’re so stuck in your ways you are ruined as a literary writer.
Cheer up! Those years of brutal discipline as a journalist or copywriter or plain language trainer are worth their weight in anti-matter. Yes, you have heaps to learn, but surely that’s the fun part? And with your experience, you’ll find the crucial stage of editing a breeze. Cut cut cut, be bold, go go go!
Image from Internet Book Image Archive, “North Carolina Christian advocate [serial]” (1894)