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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pain-Free Guide to Slashing Your Word Count

In the before days (several months ago), I had a very specific and painful process for cutting words, sentences, scenes, and chapters from my books:
  1. Procure chainsaw.
  2. Slice off limbs.
It wasn’t the kind of approach to cutting I wanted to use long term. Mostly because I only have four limbs.

Fact is, cutting a manuscript hurts. After days and weeks and months of writing a story, the last thing you want to do is trash words. It feels wasteful. There are writers in the world starving for words, and there you go throwing yours out.

During my last round of revisions, I had a breakthrough. I’ve actually been holding onto this gem of a tip for months because I kept forgetting to post it I had really important things to do and stuff.

So here it is—four pain-free* steps to cutting your word count:

1. Print your manuscript.
After reading my book so many times on screen, doing a full read on paper is super helpful.

2. As you read, strike out words, sentences, paragraphs, even full scenes and chapters to cut.
Do not freak out. You’re simply scribbling out ink on paper. Your manuscript is still safe and sound—and in its original, lengthy glory—on your computer. Later, you can veto any marks you make, so go wild.

3. When you’re done editing on paper, open your digital file and highlight all of the sections you marked to cut.
Forget about all of your other edits. Simply go page by page through your printed manuscript and, whenever you’ve marked a word or passage to be cut, highlight it in the file.

I use Scrivener, so at this stage I simply highlighted words or chunks of text bright yellow, as noted on my printed page. I didn’t stop to think about whether I wanted to cut that text. It’s a very fast transfer from paper to Scrivener file.

4. Revise.
Now it’s time to revise as you typically would. I should point out that, at this point in my revision, I was completely unaware I was a genius. I feel very humble pointing that out.

Here’s what happened: Whenever I got to a word or section highlighted yellow, I knew I had two choices: cut or keep. Except in my mind, I’d already let those words go—twice. And so cutting wasn’t punch-to-the heart terrible like it was in the past.

It’s sort of like telling your brain to be prepared because some time real soon you’ll be getting rid of words and scenes and it better not put up a fight. And then telling it again. By the time you get around to cutting those words and scenes, your brain will be like YES, THANK YOU, I GET IT—NOW STOP.

Alright, lay it on me: What’s your best writing or revising trick?

*Results may vary.

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