Cutting Your Own Material

by Randy Murray on October 13, 2011

Some writers, or those who want to be writers, are oppressed, even terrified, by the blank page, the empty screen. I have no fear of those things. What’s more difficult for me is to change what has already been written. The real work of writing is rewriting, cutting, and distilling.

I spend a lot of my professional life writing for companies. And the toughest thing that I do is to write for corporate web sites. We struggle together to find a way to tell their story, connect with potential customers, and deliver a message, and do all that with as few words as possible, all without letting those sites become nothing but a long list of SEO keywords. Often it’s the customer who insists that I expand and add back. I’m highly paid to write as few words as possible.

Currently I’m in the middle of one of the most difficult projects of my life. I’m taking one of my plays, something that I’ve worked through multiple drafts, productions, and revisions and finally have gotten to the point where I think it’s just right. It runs around two hours, twenty minutes in full production (not including an intermission, which is also key to the structure and flow). Now I need to cut it, revise it, so it can be performed in about an hour with no breaks. On the surface it appears impossible.

But I’ve got it down to under an hour and a half. From here’s it’s slow going. The structure, the bones of the play can’t be easily rearranged. You can’t just remove, willy-nilly, any old scene. Yet I’m determined to shorten it still more. This will be a new work, a new, companion play to the original. When I’m done in a couple of weeks, it will be a functional, producible play that will run about an hour. I’m pretty excited about it. And when I’m done I’ll go back to the full play and see what can be improved there from what I’ve learned by creating the shorter version.

With luck, you’ll be able to see this new version of Grimaldi: King Of the Clowns performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2012.

You can do it too. But only if you want it enough. Only if you want to really call yourself a writer.

I’m betting that those of you who are writers have some things that you’ve written that you’re pretty proud of.

And I’m betting that these pieces can be better. Get out those red pens and get started.


And here’s more on cutting, editing and rewriting.

The Cutting Your Own Material by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: