About one-fifth of the way through Draft 2 edits on Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned. Already I've performed some significant surgery — cut multiple scenes down, telescoped them into each other.
The hardest issue I deal with in such work is the temptation to justify the existence of whatever is already in the manuscript. "No, no, I can't cut that, it's there for a reason." That whole routine. Horribly familiar, isn't it?
Excuses like this are toughies. They remind me of the lies we tell ourselves in other realms: "I don't really need to eat breakfast today, because [I'm eating an early lunch/I'm not doing anything taxing/I'm in a hurry]." "The bathroom doesn't have to be cleaned immediately, because [it's not like I have guests/I ran out of bleach/my bursitis is acting up again and I don't want to throw my elbow out of whack when I've got tennis coming up]."
PROBLEM: We can always find a perfectly good, unimpeachable reason that'll stand up to scrutiny, because both the scrutiny and the reasons are our own.
PROPOSED SOLUTION: Getting as far away as you possibly can from a piece of work before you attempt to edit it.
COMPLICATION: It's hard to get away from such things, because they're a product of who we are, and we tend not to change all that much in the timeframe alloted. Sure, I'm an incrementally different person from the one who started writing this piece, but not so much that I'm now freely contemplating cosmetic surgery as a way to spice things up. There's enough of old-me in new-me that many of the same tendencies to ignore X and cling to Y remain embedded good and hard.
PROPOSED OFFSET FOR COMPLICATION: Uhh. [turns pockets inside out]
Sorry to let you down, but let's face it. At bottom, we have here a human problem and not a procedural one — as in, you solve this problem only by a process of self-transformation, and that's the last answer most people want to hear. They like to think creative problems has procedural solutions, not personal ones — that the problem is in the way they do things, and not because of what they are.
But — aha!, he said — the former add up incrementally to the latter, don't they? Do something often enough and you end up making it a part of you. That whole "rely on habit, not inspiration" thing.
So perhaps the only short-term advice to give in this vein is to confront that no-I-have-this-here-for-a-reason impulse, to drill down as far into it as you can go, and find out where in fact it is coming from. Never stop asking yourself, "Am I keeping this for a reason, or am I keeping this?"
And again, that requires a degree of honesty and willingness not to self-deceive — something many people don't realize they're signing up for when they decide writing stories seems like a Fun Thing To Do.
What can I say? This stuff's complicated. FOR A REASON!
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind