Editing hurts. If sculpting is removing all the bits of marble that aren’t the statue, then editing is cutting away all the words that aren’t the story. Except the sculptor didn’t create that block of marble first; someone else delivered it to his studio. When I’m editing I’m modifying something I’ve already gone to the trouble of creating.
Sometimes those modifications are easy. “What the hell was I thinking? That makes no sense and contradicts what something that comes later.” Slash, gone. Or revised to fit. Other times the process is more difficult. It might be a particularly good scene. Or it provides greater insight into a character. Or I happen to find it clever and amusing. But is it necessary?
That’s where it gets difficult. What is necessary? If you pare a story back far enough you’re left with no more than a bare recitation of events. Without character and motivation a story becomes no more than a police report. On the other hand, too much detail, too much delving into characters thoughts, too much banter detracts from the story. If the response from the reader is “get on with it already” instead of amusement then the balance is off.
So things have to go. A description I’m particularly proud of, a clever aside, a bit of background for a minor character, whatever — is it necessary? Is the reader likely to skim it, looking for the next section that moves the story forward? It’s hard to remove this stuff, though. The rationalizations for keeping it are always ready at hand.
I have it easier than many writers, I suppose. I tend to write lean to begin with. But perhaps that makes trimming the fat more difficult; with less fat to cut I’m in more danger of slicing away meat as well.
Well, enough. This is beginning to sound like whining and self-pity. I’ll sharpen my knife and get back to work in the morning.