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Why ‘When in Doubt, Cut it Out!’ Should Be the Motto All Creative Writers Embrace

“It is easy,” Michelangelo famously said about his creative process. “You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.” 

Creative writing is absolutely nothing like sculpting. You start with a blank slate. As you fill that void, fueled by hours of creative flow punctuated by periods of writer’s block, it’s only normal to begin to feel at home in the world you have just conjured. It’s only normal to ache to keep building it, and to feel like something of a butcher every time you even just consider taking something away. 

Before you know it, your writing — now filled with complex sentences and scenes designed to bring your text to life — becomes cluttered and distracting. That’s why every creative writer can benefit from this sculptor’s advice. “When it doubt, cut it out”. Chip away the words that don’t fit into the story, and then go back to kill the words that don’t add anything. Learn from the minimalists; declutter your writing until every word has found a home and your whole project sparks joy.

Whether you are writing an essay or a novel, you’ll at the very least have the opportunity to tidy your writing up a little. Almost always, you’ll discover that, in the words of Ernest Hemingway, the “omitted part would strengthen the story”. Naturally wordy creative writers should consider adding a separate “backspace edit” to their creative process, but even if you don’t go that far, you may be surprised at the results you get if you are a little more willing to cut things out. 

What should you consider as you decide what to cut out during your self-editing process as a creative writer?

Could you effectively convey the same message in fewer words?

At the basic proofreading level, you can simply ask yourself if you can effectively say the same thing in fewer words by removing repetition and clunky wordy choices — in turn forcing you to think about your sentences more intently. As this is the least painful part of “when it doubt, cut it out”, it’s a good place to start. 

Next, target your adjectives and adverbs

As a creative writer, you’ll use adjectives and adverbs to liven up your story, especially if you’ve taken the advice to show rather than tell to heart. Sometimes, you’ll find that you’ve been overdoing that a bit — so see which flowery words can head for the chopping board. 

Examine your side characters

If you are writing a novel, short story, or play, chances are that not all of the characters included in your work truly deserve a place there. Side characters should serve a purpose — they might act as a foil, a learning opportunity for the protagonist, fill in a gap, or offer a way to provide crucial background information. If any of your characters aimlessly wander in and out of your story, without influencing the plot in any meaningful way, they may have to go.

Finally, put your plot points under the knife

Just as your characters should should seamlessly fit into the story you are telling, the journey your main characters take can get too cluttered if there are too many detours. If it doesn’t contribute to the plot, no matter how hard you worked on a particular section, you may just find that you gain, rather than lose, by simply taking it out. 

Does that sound a little harsh to you? Creative writers who just aren’t ready to start chipping away at their hard work yet, fearing that they’ll end up with a dry and sterile text, can take comfort in the fact that writing is a whole lot more flexible than sculpting. If you need to, copy/paste your work into an entirely new document. Start experimenting with relentless deletions, cutting out everything you are not 100 percent sure about, and see what you end up with. 

You may discover that entirely new scenes now need to be added. You may hate the result and go back to your original. You may also end up with perfectly tidy writing in which every character, every scene, every word have a goal. No matter what, you’ll soon realize you’ve become a better writer after going through this process.

KDP Select Pros & Cons: KDP Select Compared to Traditional Publishing

KDP Select is one of the Big Self Publishing Platforms out there. If you are thinking about self publishing your novel or story, it’s likely that you’ve already heard of KDP Select and other platforms like Reedsy or Lulu.

But why can they be better for your needs than choosing a contract with a traditional publishing house? Platforms like KDP Select offers many benefits for self published writers that traditional publishers simply don’t.

While traditional publishing contracts are fine for thousands of writers and might still remain an aspect of your writing career now, here are some of the benefits of KDP Select compared to what traditional publishers have to offer.

Traditional Publishing is a LOT of Waiting

The process from manuscript to published book can take years when we’re talking about traditional publishing. It can even take decades when we account for all the times where an excellent manuscript might be rejected by several publishing houses in a row.

Some traditional publishers can even take as long as a year before they let you know whether or not they’re willing to publish your manuscript at all. And that’s not including all the time it takes to format, read through, proofread and finally print and promote.

For some writers, the cons of traditional publishing far outweigh what they’re able to get from it.

More writers choose self publishing through platforms like KDP Select because it’s easier, faster and gives them instant access to their market of readers.

Traditional Publishing Sometimes Requires an Agent

An increasing number of publishers – especially larger ones – aren’t willing to consider submissions that have been sent without an agent. This presents a huge problem for many first-time and emerging authors who don’t have an agent yet, and don’t have the background in the industry to just hook up with one overnight.

Self publishing your manuscript through platforms like KDP Select doesn’t require an agent – and you can do it when you’re ready as a writer.

Traditional Publishing Has Set Promotional Schedules

Traditional publishers have set promotional schedules for new books. This means that they will do a huge amount of promotion at the start of the process to boost sales, and then gradually less the longer the book has been on the shelves.

As a traditionally published writer, this means that the sales of your book will decline – and once this happens, you’re usually not getting any help from your publisher to release or promote this book again.

Whoops.

Self publishing through platforms like KDP Select won’t carry this restriction – and won’t limit you as much in terms of how you can promote your work. There’s no need to stick to a larger publisher telling you which books are “good” for promotion right now: You decide, and you showcase the work to your readers that they want to see

Traditional Publishing Pays Eventually… Self Publishing Pays Sooner

Traditional publishers usually issue their royalty statements throughout the year – quarterly being one of the most common. During this time, writers are promised a fraction of the profits for the books that have sold during this period – and once you’ve been paid an advance (assuming you’re paid one at all), this fraction isn’t as much as you would think.

Books that have been in publication for a while (or had a slow release) will earn you a few cents every few months. That’s not ideal, is it?

Using platforms like KDP Select to publish your writing gives you easier access to royalties you’ve earned from your work (and you’ll earn a larger percentage).