We’ve all been there, writing a piece, drilling down thoughts as quickly as our brains will allow. Each idea seems more profound than the next until suddenly we come out of our creative haze and realize our 500-word short story has evolved into a 10-page jumble of words!
As creative writers, it can be difficult to tame all the ideas fighting to get out of our heads. There are countless ways to approach even one topic, and if you’re like me, you get personally attached to your sentences on an emotional level. You’ve created them from nothing, you see such potential for them, you desperately want them all to work, yet you have to cut something out! These can be some of the toughest times for us writers, but no need to fear! Here’s a process you could try to deal with those heart-wrenching moments when you have to *gasp* condense your precious thoughts.
Step 1: Make an Outline
Creating a basic outline of your piece before you write can help you stay on track by immediately pointing out the major details you want to focus on. It gets the wheels turning in your brain, and once you clearly identify the points you need to get across, your subconscious will already naturally be focusing on those when you begin your writing phase.
Step 2: Write Everything Out (and I mean EVERYTHING!)
When writing your piece, put every single thought you have on paper; don’t overthink it, just let it flow and blast words onto the page until you’ve drained your brain of all ideas related to your piece – key words being “related to the piece.” You want your thoughts to flow, but you also want to keep them on topic. I call this an “Objective Subject Word Splurge.” This step is similar to freewriting, but with slightly more direction. With a free write, your train of thought may make stops on several different topics. For example, you may begin free writing about experiences in nature, then shift your thoughts to forests, then to rivers, then to bodies of water, then the ocean, then the beach, then summer . . . and before you know it your mind went from nature to eating a popsicle in the sand and the content of the piece falls apart. With a free write you’re just a passenger riding the train of thought, whereas with a subject splurge you’re the conductor.
Step 3: Revise and Reread: Chop ‘til You Drop!
This probably sounds like old news to you seasoned writers, but never overlook the importance of a few quality revision sessions; read it on the computer, print it out and read it, is the whole passage in line with the theme of the work as a whole? Most editing tends to take the form of hunting for grammar errors and making sure the general organization of the piece flows. When your focus is cutting down on words, however, revising has to be a little more specific. For this step, refer back to the outline you made in step one. Revisit those key ideas that you absolutely need to include, and then go over all the content you’ve written; read it out loud – do some parts stand out as outliers that don’t really belong? They don’t fit no matter how bad you might want them to, like puzzle pieces from the wrong box. Identify those, and give them the axe; if a sentence does not directly contribute to developing those key thoughts into a masterpiece, then (you guessed it) out it goes!
Step 4: SAVE THE PASSAGES YOU CUT!
Chopping words and sentences out of your piece doesn’t mean you have to throw them in the metaphorical fire and lose them forever! After identifying what needs to go, don’t just delete it and never see it again, cut and paste it into a new document or folder and come back to it later; if it’s really that good of a thought, you’ll come back to it and create a whole new masterpiece of words, I guarantee it. Maybe even something you never imagined would come from its original purpose!
For many writers, consolidation is a brutal process. However, if you approach it with an open mind and positive outlook, it can feel cleansing and leave us feeling lighter at the end of the day; don’t be afraid to cut things out, it could benefit you more in the end.
Kellyn Vale is a 22 year old student at Calumet College of St. Joseph. She has a passion for running, coffee, and writing. Kellyn is currently working as a New Media Journalist for Ideas in Motion Media and plans to continue to incorporate writing into her future career.