As a young writer, having been told how wonderful my work was since I was in elementary school, I developed the mindset that just about everything that fell out of my head onto the page was good, if not great. Beyond spelling and grammar corrections, and the occasional tweak here and there, I didn’t really do much in the way of editing.
My first novel was published more than eleven years ago, as I write this. And though I think the book still holds up pretty darn well, I certainly could have had a heavier hand when it came to edits. There are entire subplots that could have been extricated without damaging the story at all and doing so might very well have improved it. At the very least, it would have resulted in a tighter plot.
I don’t know that I’ll ever be as good at cutting material from my work as I should be, but I do know that today I don’t hesitate to erase half a chapter if I don’t think it’s working the way it should. In the past, I would have tinkered with it until it was passable and called it a day. Recently, it’s been common for me to sit down at the computer, look over what I wrote in my last session, delete maybe a third of it, and continue forward. And I’m actually pleased by this.
If I could pass on only one bit of advice to young writers, it would be this: Praise can be a good thing for a young writer, but if we’re serious, we should never believe all of it. We must be our own harshest critics and never assume that what we’ve written cannot be improved by the judicious application of the delete key.