Stephen King wrote, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” And that’s just what I’ve been doing for the last couple of months. I slashed 30,000 words from a 77,000-word manuscript. All of Act 3. It was awful.
But now that I’m almost done with the re-writing, I know it wasn’t just necessary, it was the only way to make this book valuable to the reader.
Here’s what I learned:
1. Listen to your editor(s). They’re like your beta readers, only meaner; and more correct. They’re going to tell you where the manuscript falls apart, and even how to make it better.
2. Cut. Then cut some more. And then, when it hurts, cut even more. Then cry a little. Then maybe wait a day before cutting one last time.
3. Keep everything you cut in a separate document. Not because you’ll use much of it. But it will make it easier to get rid of months or years’ worth of effort if you lie to yourself and pretend like you’ll be using it in the future.
4. Plot out your story. I’ve heard that some writers get bored if they plot it out too much. Not me. Or maybe I’m just always bored. Not sure. But plot it out so that you don’t have to cut all your re-writes.
5. Talk to your editors about your plans. And go in with an open mind. They’ll give you some great advice. (Mine did, anyway.)
6. Give yourself a difficult schedule. Plan out everything you’re going to write, for every day. Then stick to it, or even beat it.
7. But don’t be afraid to make changes. If you have to extend your timeframe, do it. It’s better to get a good book out the door late than rush in a bad one.
8. Get another beta reader before you hand it off to your editor. This could be your agent, your spouse, your mom… whatever. My wife was my last reader.
Good luck with your structural edits! I know it’s hard. But once you’re done, it’s off to line edits for more fun.