Yeah, yeah, I know the formula:
Final Draft = First Draft – 10% (or even 20%).
Heard it from Gordon Lish first, and then Stephen Koch, and then Stephen King, and I’m sure if I looked I could find it plenty of other places, probably even from additional Stephens.
Unfortunately, I seem to be a putter-inner. It isn’t that I write lean, spare prose that needs flesh added to its poor bones. Far from it. I tend to digress so much I might be Tristram Shandy’s love child, had he managed to get around to it.
But, when editing time comes a-knocking, the problem doesn’t seem to be that I have written too much, but rather that there are things that need additional complication or explication. I do cut some in the second draft…and after I do so, people come back to me and say--as if we're in a poorly written movie scene about a relationship breakup--that there seems to be something missing. I add things back; I elaborate, I slap in new chapters, I put back scenes and chapters I had previously cut.
I’m not talking about a skinny puppy here to begin with. Shock and Awe ran 105,000 words in first draft; after critiques, it stretched to 116,000 words; and after I worked through it with the estimable Will Atkins, it ended up somewhere around 121,000 words.
And now I’m going through the same process with two other novels. It’s not because I don’t cut anything; it’s just that the net effect is for my novels to grow in every revision.
What's up with that, huh?
(Nota bene transatlanticum: What is called "take away" in the UK is called "take out" to the left of Bermuda. If you prefer, I suppose the title of this post can be translated to "Putter-here-ers and Take-awayers")