The joys of trimming your writing

Reading time: About 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a New York Times article written by Pamela Erens…

When I read Pamela Erens’ article headlined “The Joys of Trimming,” in the New York Times, I was initially distracted.

She claimed that William Faulkner had penned the phrase “in writing you must kill all your darlings.” She even provided a hotlink, from one of those all-purpose quotation sites. But I knew the phrase had come originally from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944). I was also surprised to see her attribute the second part of the Quiller-Couch quote to Samuel Johnson. But, perhaps he said it first.

In any case, I share Erens’ joy in the act of trimming or cutting my own writing and support her feeling that,

Shaving phrases and even whole scenes from a piece of writing is light-hauling work, like tossing a few garbage bags into the back of the pickup truck and taking them to the dump.

In fact, if I have any regrets about my writing, they relate entirely to those times where I have failed to cut or trim. There’s a metaphor in my book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better that still niggles at me. (I’m not going to repeat it here but anyone who owns my book can see it on page 7, lines 13 and 14.) It feels entirely overwrought to me now. Why didn’t I take it out?