A big part of my job involves helping writers develop ideas and then editing their work. Good agents, Jane taught me a long time ago, send out material in its most polished, ready-for-prime-time form. Even though an editor brings his/her own vision and expertise to the process of making a book ready for publication, it’s our job to get that editor to buy the thing in the first place. So, a brilliant but bloated novel of ideas about the robot apocalypse (just a hypothetical, although you never know with Jim’s list), will probably get a long edit memo from us suggesting a lot of slashing and some burning.
Now, after a couple of decades of responses ranging from sobs to name calling, I’ve learned that telling authors to kill their darlings is always a loaded proposition. Some will argue with you like defense lawyers at the O.J. trial, trying to convince you to recant and let them keep every superfluous line of dialogue, every unnecessary adjective, and every irritating dream sequence (a particular bugaboo of mine). Some will accept your comments politely and then send back a manuscript with infinitesimal changes. Some will send you six-page letters refuting everything you’ve suggested and insinuating that you belong in a less think-heavy profession.
Seldom (although not never) do we get a reaction similar to that of the author of this piece in the Times. For every author who loves cutting and throwing out, there are thousands of hoarders.
Be honest, are you able to cut with gusto (or at least without facing a clinical depression) or do you have the impulse to argue with or rail against anyone who suggests it?