Editing Your Own Work (5/8)

#5: Cut Out 10% of Your Words

Once you’re broadly happy with the shape and flow of your piece, it’s time to cut.  Most writers over-write: we use more words than we need, and we weaken our argument or story in the process.

Do a word-count for your whole piece, and try to cut 10% of the words. If you’ve written an 800 word blog post, for instance, aim to cut it to 720. Look out for:

  • Repeating the same point several times – unless you’re deliberately doing this as a rhetorical device, it’s probably unnecessary. Trust that your reader will get it the first time.
  • Wishy-washy phrases like “in my opinion…” or “it is my belief that…” Occasionally these are warranted; often, you can simply cut them out.
  • Unnecessary adjectives. Don’t tell us “John said loudly” if you can say “John shouted”.

Good points, all.  With the Fates project, I dropped from 120K to just under 100K (my goal).  When I return to the manuscript later this month, the goal will not specifically center around cutting stray words and phrases but about streamlining the action.  While I want to have good character development and not lose my reader in the action, I know I am a chronic over writer.  Admitting a problem is the first step, right?  Perhaps I need to write a large, ‘less is more’ sign and open it every time I edit.

Interestingly, for my just finished 1st draft of Room 702, my entire goal was to add an additional 10,000 words.  The rough draft was too lean and I knew it was going to end considerably longer.  With someone editing the book now, I’ve given myself room to move towards my final goal of 75,000 – 80,000 words.  The current count is 89,000 which gives me a healthy amount to trim  in the last draft.

How do you feel about cutting words?  Is there a technique you use to make consistent cuts throughout?

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