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One of the fundamental rules of life is that scissors beat paper. Another is that scrolling is a bitch. Put them together, and you have the obvious solution to one of my biggest pet peeves in editing.

Putting a story together when you’re in the early stages can be a lot like putting together a puzzle that’s gotten mixed up with another box. In the beginning, there are bound to be scenes or scraps that don’t fit with the larger picture of the story, and it’s about as likely that other parts will be missing. So what is a writer to do?

Cut the thing up, of course! I started applying scissors to my work in college, on an essay I was writing about the year I spent half of Easter break in the Netherlands and half in Spain. I was having a terrible time trying to balance the parts and figure out how to splice the stories. In a fit of desperation, I printed it out and took a pair of scissors to the thing, and I realized that it was a lot easier to physically shuffle sections of my story around than cut and paste virtually.

The story I’m working on now doesn’t hop between places, but there are a lot of elements going on–a pregnancy, disease, the question of what to do with aging parents, an adult sister with a beloved baby doll, the question of how a family is supposed to come together when all its members begin creating separate lives. Some of it is more front-and-center, some of it may not even get an overt mention, but I believe in the importance of knowing more than you tell. I’m still working on what needs to go in and what needs to stay out, so I’ll be cutting my story up and spreading it over the living room floor.

What are your editing tricks?

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