I just read the fantastic “10 (11) Ways to Tell Your Editor Hates You.” I want to expand on the author’s eighth point: “[An editor will] make you kill your darlings.” I’ve always heard the idea expressed as “copy editors will make you kill your babies.”
It’s true. And it’s probably the greatest gift we can give our authors. Sometimes, in the course of writing, a writer will create a piece of prose that borders on poetry. It slinks off the page, padding along on paws of purple prose. It stands out in stark contrast to every other part of that particular piece of writing.
And that’s bad.
These beautiful bits of prose are your most precious children. You look at them and wonder how something so perfect could come out of the messiness that is writing. However, chance is good that on revision (or even closer examination), you’ll notice that these babies are awkward rocks breaking up the river of your discourse. A good copy editor will probably strongly advise you to delete them. In short, they will ask that you kill your beautiful creation.
It hurts. (I’ve been on both sides of the process. There’s nothing more painful about the writing process than cutting out lines that you love.) But as time goes by, you realize that it’s less like a murder and more like an appendectomy. The removal frees up the flow of your writing and improves the piece as a whole. That’s not to say that you can’t save your beautiful children in notebooks and clips to gaze upon in hard times. But when a copy editor tells you to kill your babies, don’t dismiss the notion out of hand.