Readers of the Readerly Tea Break will know that my husband and I recently came to Estonia with the intention of staying long term. One of the decisions we made was to economize by only bringing two checked bags each—at the last minute through the kind offices of a friend group, we were gifted an additional bag, for a total of five.
Think about this for just a second. You need to pack everything you might need for a year into 2.5 bags. Obviously, we will purchase some things and apartments in Estonia are largely furnished, so we aren’t bringing household items, though I did manage to pack my French Press and some of my favorite teas… But everything you will wear or want from home must go into 2.5 bags. And there is a weight limit of 23 kilos (about 50ish pounds). What do you put into the bags? What is important enough to go and what has to stay?
Writers are faced with a similar dilemma when they revise. You must sort through that first draft and make decisions about what is working and what is not. You may not be stepping onto a literal scale to weigh your baggage as we did, but you will make difficult choices. If the French Press stays, what gets left behind? If you add the family photos, what do you remove from your bag? If you leave the inciting incident the way it is, is the reaction of your protagonist believable? Is the incident enough to kick off the story? What about the consequences of your characters’ decisions? Are the stakes high enough? Do you need to add something and take away something else? Most likely all of the above!
Just as we had to edit our bags, you will have to edit your story; and there will be pain. I love shoes and to be honest, I have many more pairs of shoes than I need. I had to leave more than half of them behind. I had to be very careful about the ones I did pack—would they hold up to all the walking, would they work for a rainy climate, were they comfortable enough? Most importantly, were they cute? Only some of my shoes made the cut. They had to be comfortable, durable and cute enough to go with lots of outfits.
When you revise, you will edit your story in just such a way. You will start with more words than you need. You will check to see whether the scenes you have written serve the story you are telling. WIll they move the story? Will they reveal character? Will they keep the reader engaged? If not, they may end up in your “cuts” folder, the way some of my shoes ended up in storage. It’s okay! You may use some of those cuts in other books or you may not. I may wear some of those shoes again, but it may also happen that by the time I see them again, I don’t need them. Less can actually be more, it’s true.