Attack the Page: Slasher Cuts by Ashley Jagodzinski

posted Apr 30, 2017, 5:25 PM by Writing Center
In horror, there’s a subgenre called “the slasher,” in which a killer roams around gleefully murdering people. These movies benefit from our deeply-rooted anxieties about loss and change, among other things. Believe it or not, the act of writing can trigger similar feelings of anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. Sure, we’re not being chased around by serial killers, but for many people, writing is a reflexive activity that is closely tied up with identity. When we are faced with the task of changing a piece of writing, we are also changing a part of ourselves that now inhabits the page. Revision can be scary, so it is not uncommon for new writers to resist or even despise revision.

However, most lifelong writers know that revision is a critical part of improving their writing. Hemingway wrote forty-seven endings to his novel A Farewell to Arms. Nabokov said that he revises so often that his “pencils outlast their erasers.” With that in mind, I want to propose a new kind of revision process that might make for better writing: slasher cuts. Like Hollywood slasher villains, we ought to revel in hacking up our writing.

Slasher cuts are the antidote to some writers’ unwillingness or inability to make major changes to their drafts, even when they can see that those drafts simply aren’t working. To fix troublesome drafts, we should be willing to cut them up, paste them back together, lose sections, add sections, demolish the thing and rebuild it from the ground up.

Since I practice this kind of wild abandon in my own writing, I have started to ask writers to slash at their drafts during our consultations. The encounter usually goes something like this:

ME: “What would happen if we just cut this entire section?”

WRITER: “What, all of it?”

ME: “Yeah. We agree that these couple of pages are problematic and you said you’re not sure how to make it fit with the rest of the draft. Wanna cut it?”

            WRITER: (fearfully) “Uhhh. I mean. I...”

See, the problem is that when most of us talk about revision, what we actually mean is proofreading. Grammar, punctuation, word choice. But revision, as the word implies, refers to looking again, and it often involves making large-scale changes like moving entire sections, slashing away at everything that isn’t useful or relevant, and rewriting large chunks of text.

When I suggest we work on macro revisions, it is not uncommon for writers to give me a look of terror; they are visibly afraid of making major changes to their drafts. But like Hemingway and Nabokov, I know that sometimes higher-order revision is the difference between an ineffective piece of writing and a stellar, I’m-still-thinking-about-it-a-week-later piece of writing.

In writing this blog, I have completely done away with several body paragraphs, moved sections, deleted sections, changed the theme from the Serenity Prayer to slasher flicks, and added a section on famous revisers (revisionists?). Slasher cuts are terrifying, I know, but they can help transform your writing into something better, sleeker, more interesting. So next time you’re writing, give it a go. Slice and splice and see what happens.

Happy slashing!

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