William C. Knott
One of my favorite Mark Spragg moments at the last Wyoming Writers conference was when he discussed how he sometimes got too cute, too in love with a phrase or sentence that didn't belong. His editor flagged one of those lapses with a note: "Why don't you save this for your book of witty f**king sayings?"
I'll come back to this thought. For now, let's talk shrubbery.
My husband doesn't like to kill or even discourage plants. Sort of a Plants Rights Activist. For years, he refused to let me trim the shrubs, with one exception: per city ordinance, the sidewalks had to be kept clear. Along the walk, I hacked them in a sharp line. On the top and other three sides, they put out sprawling limbs. For several years it looked as if the cotoneasters wore mohawks.
Where I trimmed, I hadn't just lost the excess. The shrubs filled in, become thicker, more attractive. Just like my writing when I revise it. Where I cut, it leaves room for words and thoughts that matter. The writing becomes more solid.
I finally persuaded my husband to let me trim the other three sides. Once the long and rambling shoots were off, the gaps were evident, as if the shrubs had developed some form of cotoneaster pattern baldness. I have faith that if I keep trimming them back, they will take shape over time.
Cutting words can be painful. Even a writer like Mark Spragg sometimes can have trouble getting the last of the clutter out. But revising doesn't just take out the unwanted material. It makes room and space for more good writing to fill in the gaps. So don't be afraid to cut pieces from that poem or prose. You may end up with more than you started with.