Culling is a term familiar to most farmers, ranchers and wildlife management officers. It means “to select and remove something without value.” My DH’s recent logging efforts culled several spindly trees from an area in front of our house. He removed those that had already died and fallen over as well as others that were crowded and struggling for sunlight and nourishment, and wouldn’t survive another summer’s heat.
During recent manuscript revisions I culled words – chopped them out as ruthlessly as if they were dead trees destined to become a fire hazard. I slashed at superfluous adverbs and adjectives, descriptions that served no purpose except to pad the word count, and a whole chapter containing a sub-plot that distracted from the character’s journey.
It took weeks to write those words, and just about as long to get rid of them. Some were quite lovely, rolling nicely off the tongue as they did. I was rather fond of them but they had to go. I’ve heard other writers refer to the process as “killing your darlings”, but the brutality of that is too much for me. I prefer culling. It sounds less violent, although I guess they’re just as dead.
The trees will go to a chipper and live again as mulch on a riding trail or garden path. The words? They could show up in a different manuscript or short story, or I might just let them sink below the surface of my creative conscience. If they were unnecessary before, they’ll likely still be without value next time I’m tempted to dredge them up.
Do you find it easy to edit out debris in your writing or is it painful to let go of hard won words?
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