WHAT TO CUT?

“WHEN REVISING, WHAT DO YOU LOOK TO CUT? WHAT IS THE HARDEST MATERIAL TO CUT?”

[These responses are from three writers, excerpted from THE SECRET MIRACLE, THE NOVELIST’S HANDBOOK, edited by Daniel Alarcon. Interesting, but very different]

DINAW MENGESTU: The hardest material is always the material that I fought and struggled to arrive at. There were chapters that I had spent months writing, that I had revised and edited until I thought they were nearly perfect. The problem, however, was that they no longer fit into the novel. They had no purpose, or in one case took the novel in a direction it could no longer sustain, so they had to be cut, or saved under a different name so I could always find them again, just in case.

MICHAEL CHABON: As much as possible. I love cutting. It hurts for a second but it immediately feels great afterward. You feel lighter, relieved of bad dreams and heavy burdens. 

I can watch two or three hundred pages go down the tubes with the equanimity of a lab assistant gassing a rat. 

ANNE ENRIGHT: Some evening, toward the end of the process, I drink a lot of whiskey and go through the damn thing with a red pen. The question, in the morning, is not what I have cut but what I have left in.  ###

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