“Your reader will never miss what she doesn’t know was once there.”
I frequently told this to reporters in my news-editing career when I would trim their stories for length. Often what I was cutting was their favorite part–their baby, if you will–but it didn’t sufficiently inform the reader on the main point of the story.
I’ve been telling myself this phrase a lot lately as I’ve gone through the manuscript for Committed: A Memoir of the Artist’s Road. To further trim the length of the book–both to reduce the price point when it is published in print in October, and also to better ensure all of the surviving material truly informs the reader–I’ve been committing a fair amount of infanticide.
Over the last two weeks I have reduced the manuscript page count of the book from 304 pages to 264, a 40-page reduction. This is on top of an 80-page reduction–from 384 pages to 304–I performed last summer.
After another run-through to ensure my edits haven’t screwed anything up, I’ll send the manuscript to the publisher for their first take at editing. Then, at some point, I will turn my attention to what was deleted. Why?
Well, another thing I used to tell reporters is that they should take those cut sections and add them to their “string,” a newsroom term that refers to odds and ends you pick up that don’t make a particular story. A skilled reporter can, on a slow day, tie those loose bits of string into a story. There likely are personal essays that can emerge from some of the material. I’ve already seen one story from my cross-country road trip published.
The manuscript is now about 30 percent thinner than it was when I “finished” it in my MFA program. In Part Two of this post, I’ll discuss some of the painful decisions I’ve had to make in keeping tight a book that covers five weeks, 6,000 miles, and forty-some artist interviews.
As an artist yourself, have you ever had to kill some of your creative babies?