Many years ago I read a heartbreaking news account of a teenage suicide. It struck me in such a way that I knew it had to become a short story. So I wrote the short story. It wasn't very good, and neither were the first few attempts I made of turning it into a novel. But the story wouldn't leave me alone, so recently I tried again. I started from scratch, and the result was "Reading Hemingway," clearly a novella. But most publishers shy away from novellas (too long for a collection, too short for a book of its own) so I was left with a stepchild of a story. Yes, I loved her dearly, but what an awkward size! You should have seen the poor thing.
Against the odds, I submitted it to a few places, hoping some publisher would take pity on us, then decided to turn the novella into a novel, something more acceptable. I would fill it out, develop some backstory, maybe add some description, some thoughtful character analysis. And in a few weeks she began to grow, to look a bit novelistic.
I was still thinking big when Linda at Glimmer Train said they wanted to publish it. She said it should be as long as necessary, but please think small. They only had so many pages.
So I began to whittle. First I cut the not-so-good, then the pretty-good, and finally some of the good. I cut everything I could without doing damage to the story. After six weeks, what was left, of course, was the best of the original story and the best of my additions. It was as short as I could get it, but as long as it had to be, and much better than before the expansion-contraction process.
I learned a valuable lesson about revision from this. Willful expansion adds stuff. Some of it is good, some of it is not, and forcing myself to cut deeply—not only when it was good enough but when it was good—made a stronger, more tightly focused story. And after twenty-some years, it is finally ready to go out in public.