Take Out the Bad Parts

In his book titled On Writing, Stephen King tells how John Gould, editor of the Lisbon (Maine) Weekly Enterprise, taught him more about the craft in 10 minutes than all his English and composition classes in high school and college. King hired on as a teenage sports reporter and soon admitted he didn’t know much about sports.

“These are games people understand when they’re watching them drunk in bars,” Gould said. “You’ll learn if you try.”

One of King’s first stories was about a record-breaking performance by a Lisbon High basketball player. He watched Gould take a black pen to his copy. “I only took out the bad parts, you know,” Gould said. “Most of it’s pretty good.”

King called the edit “pure revelation,” and wondered why English teachers never taught this. Gould had simply trimmed unnecessary words and phrases.

King mined this gem from Gould, which would help him become a bestselling author. When you write the story, you’re telling it to yourself. When you rewrite it, your job is to take out all the parts that aren’t the story.

Put another way, write with the door closed. Initially, the story is for you and you alone. Rewrite with the door open so the story can belong to anyone who reads it.

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