Experience is an Action Word

In Christina Katz’s weekly e-zine, she continues her discussion on the 52 Qualities of Prosperous Writers.

This week’s quality is experience.

*****

Experience is an action word.

It’s a noun, yes. But, the word – and the meaning behind it – comes alive with action.

Last week, I experimented with a short story rewrite, deciding it not only needed a good trim but a rigorous reduction in extraneous verbiage.

I’ve rewritten passages before and added words here and there, but I’ve never attacked a whole story with the goal of cutting the word count in half. I needed help, so I turned to other writers. I posed a question here, and several people commented with great suggestions.

Over a course of several days, and several draft print-outs, I attempted to trim a 3500+ word story to just under 1200 words. Each time I considered a strikethrough, I leaned on the experience and words of those writers:

  • Cut the facts, keep the emotion.
  • Get rid of the passages that are better expressed elsewhere in the story.
  • Cut the beginning and introduce the conflict in the first sentence.
  • Take off the ending.
  • Follow your intuition.

The initial cuts were easy. I crossed out the ending without a problem, and I condensed the beginning two paragraphs into one concise sentence. My pen danced through unnecessary adjectives and random details. But after the third pass through the story, I still had well over 200 words left to cut.

Talk about killing your darlings…It pained me to think of losing even one more word, let alone a few hundred. Then, I read Jordan Rosenfeld’s recent post, at Make a Scene, about deep-cut revising, and trusted her when she said weeks later I wouldn’t even notice what I bumped from the story.

So, I cut whole scenes, gave one character the boot, and said farewell to descriptions that no reader would love as much as I loved them.

As I got closer to 1200 words, the skeleton of a story that remained read so choppy that I wondered if I cut too much. But, I weaved the story back together with careful precision – into a sensible plot – and ended just under the 1200 bar. I then sent the “new” story off to a few writing friends to see if it held together well. Comments were positive, and I was able to work in a few more suggested changes while staying under my word limit.

The experience I gained through this experiment was invaluable. I learned several things about my writing – I write on and on sometimes and plenty of what I say can be cut without losing the premise of a story.

This rewrite experiment also taught me that, while writing is a solitary act, I rarely do it alone. I ask around when I’m not sure how to begin a story or edit a story or end a story. And in listening to other writers’ suggestions – and their experience I find the courage to attempt new writing challenges myself.

Then, I celebrate my success when the story I just slashed still reads like a story and not like a ticker tape.

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5 responses to “Experience is an Action Word

  1. Thank you for sharing your process and sharing your story. Your new story reads really well. Excellent job of describing the process and of revisions.

    Send it out into the world with positive energy and wishes.

    Great job!

  2. Thanks, Dot, for your suggestions on how to approach the revisions, and for your encouragement all along the way!

  3. This is so true. I teach school, and often I don’t know how something will go until I do it. Until I have that experience. The same is true for writing.

  4. Pingback: Links: Book Fair 2010 Edition | Meryl.net

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