Skip to main content

Revising Out Damn Good Writing

One of my tutoring students wrote an amazing paragraph.  She was writing a comp paper analyzing a short story, and pointed out a really brilliant interpretation of one section.  It was well-written and insightful.

The trouble was, it didn't fit in her paper.  At all.  She was writing a paper analyzing symbolism with a strong thesis to match, and this piece, while very interesting, was a complete non sequitor.  It was a blaring interuption in the middle of a well-organized paper.

So we put it on the "back burner" which is my shorthand for telling students, "You don't have to throw it out right now, but if you can't find a way to make it work, it will be easy to know what section needs to go."

Just because something is good doesn't mean it belongs.

It's another angle on "kill your darlings."  I think we sometimes fail to acknowledge that those darlings are not only bits that we like, but are often objecively good.  Damn good.  Well-written, insightful, provocative, interesting, beautiful.  It still might need to be revised out of your work.  Just because it's a damn good piece of writing doesn't mean it belongs--in your English paper or in your novel.

We take a lot of things out of our novels during the revision provess--cliches, placeholder words, weak writing.  The thing is, we often need to take good things out, as well.  Well-written scenes that interupt the storyline.  Fantastic, witty, well-rounded characters who just don't fit (and man, but they fight to stay in, don't they?).  Beautiful description that, unfortunately, does nothing but bog down a section that needs to be pacey. 

If it helps, don't delete it outright.  This is what I do--I keep the damn good writing that has to go in a new, separate document.  Call it the recycling bin.  Or the back burner.  It can always go back in if you find a way to make it work.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

In Which I Finally Get to Say: Orbit is Publishing My Book!

I realize I’ve been a little quiet around here recently.  Moms of toddlers will tell you that it’s when things get quiet in their houses that they know *something* is happening.  With toddlers, silent happenings are usually not a good thing.  In writing? They can be a really awesome thing.
Long story short (when does that ever happen writing novels?): I’m incredibly excited to announce that Orbit will be publishing my novel Torn in spring of 2018—and even more exciting, we’ll be publishing a trilogy! The story follows a seamstress who can embed good luck charms into her creations--and becomes entangled in a revolution.
Obligatory Publisher's Marketplace screenshot--because this little blurb means this is super-duper, 100%, don't bother pinching me official!


Long story less short: Want to have the most exciting day of your career and then sit on the news for months? Then writing and publishing books is for you!  This has been in the works for a while, and though I’ve known for…

Meyers-Briggs and Your Characters

You've probably, at some point, encountered the Myers-Briggs inventory (MBTI), whether you've taken a Buzzfeed quiz or the formal inventory.  Debate exists over the scientific validity of the test, with many experts calling it "meaningless," though the Myers-Briggs foundation maintains that it is a reliable method with valid results.  Much of the argument seems to stem not from the descriptors themselves, but from the way that some, including businesses, use the results.

As a writer, I'm less interested in what Forbes says is the proper and improper use of the MBTI than I am in thinking about how the inventory asks us to think about describing people.  The claim--four traits, each existing in a spectrum, combine to explain how a person interacts with the world around them and perceives their engagement with it.  Does a person prefer spending time in their inner world or the outer one?  Does she focus on individual pieces of information as they come in, or on pat…

Still Smells Like Pine Needles Around Here...

So there's this scene in It's a Wonderful Life where Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey walks into his future wife Mary Hatch's house, awkwardly shambles through the foyer, nervously handles his hat, and remarks "I see it still smells like pine needles around here."

And this is what I'm feeling right about now.  See, George Bailey is *supposed* to be with Mary.  We just know it.  We know he has a purpose and that something bigger than him has vision that he can't even see.  But he's fought against it and tried a dozen other things and so when he's finally where he's supposed to be...well, I guess it still smells like pine needles or whatever.


Because if I'm George Bailey, writing is my Mary Hatch and it's been a long time since I've visited her.  I've been noncommittal and crappy to her.  Her mom is very justified in wondering why she doesn't just ditch me for Sam Wainwright.

I'm not fighting against anything, but I am …