GUEST BLOG: Cutting the Deadwood with Pam Brunskill

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Today it is my pleasure to have talented children’s writer Pam Brunskill as my guest.  Pam and I met through NJSCBWI and quickly became trusted critique buddies and friends.  She has a keen editorial eye and today will be chatting about the importance of editing our work.  Take it away, Pam!

My family and I are preparing to move, and nearly every person I tell says how great it will be to de-clutter.  These perky optimists don’t acknowledge how emotionally draining it is to clear out the pack-n-play, my father’s record player, and the first computer my husband and I purchased. Every time another pile leaves the house, it feels like a part of me is being ripped away. But the reality is that all of these things are just deadwood.

Deadwood—the dead branches on a tree.  In writing, it’s the term I use to describe words and phrases that don’t add to the plot or theme in a story.  While these words may have been necessary in crafting the plot and in understanding a character, if they slow the pacing and don’t further the story in any way, they have to go.  When I taught 6th grade Language Arts, I cheerfully told my students, “Cut the deadwood,” and a flash of something akin to pain would cross their faces.

For some writers, cutting deadwood is just as difficult as it is for me to shed my things.  Metaphors that took hours to craft, phrases that make you laugh out loud, or names of characters that make you sentimental can all be powerful motivators for wanting to keep such words.  If you’re one of these writers, hitting the delete key can feel like a part of you is being ripped away.

But, trees flourish without deadwood.  And, if I’m honest with myself, I like walking into a de-cluttered room.  It feels fresher, freer, and more inviting.  If you struggle with cutting deadwood in your writing, cut and paste those favorite phrases into a file for future reference.  But they’ve served their purpose for the present story, and your main idea will be stronger without them.

You can thank me later for all the deadwood I cut from this post.  I’m sure you don’t miss it.

And I don’t either.

ImagePam Brunskill is a former 3rd and 6th grade teacher as well as an instructor in Bloomsburg University’s Early Childhood and Adolescent Education Department. She is currently pursuing publication for some of her picture books, which she hopes will be enjoyed by children, parents, and teachers alike. Look for her article, “Flopping Frogs,” this September in Highlights for Children.

You can find her on Twitter @PamBrunskill.

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10 thoughts on “GUEST BLOG: Cutting the Deadwood with Pam Brunskill

  1. Great post, Pam! And thanks for having her Laura 🙂 This is so true. I guess it’s not surprising that I have equal amounts of trouble decluttering my house and cutting deadwood from my stories – it’s so hard to let go of things you once loved, or that were once important, even if they no longer serve a purpose!

  2. How fun to see Pam here! I find it easier to declutter my stories after I let them sit a while, then I’m not as attached to them as I was in the beginning. Great post!

  3. Hey there, Pam & Laura! (waving~~~)
    I agree that much of what makes writing effective happens in the editing. I only wish I liked that part half as much as writing the first draft.
    Coincidentally, my last blog post was about overcrowding. Must be something in the water… 😉

  4. I enjoyed reading this post, Pam and Laura. More and more, I’m learning that the longer I can keep my mitts off a story, the easier it is to cut the dead wood when I go back to it. :0)

  5. I am not a saver in my real life. The thought of you having your first computer or your dad’s record player made me twitch a little. Things here are pretty well trimmed to the bone. In my writing on the other hand, ugh. I’ll sometimes sit down with a plan to cut 100 words, then I read and reread and work and struggle, and get up having cut 32 words. Deadwood! GAH!

  6. Great and usable post, Pam! It is hard to declutter a story, especially when you think a line or description you’ve put in your story is really fun but later discover it is totally not necessary and just has to go! boo hoo, makes me want to cry!

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