Friday, April 15, 2011

How I'm Cutting 27k Words From My Manuscript

If it seems like I haven't blogged in forever, it's because, well, I haven't blogged in forever.

    Not exactly eloquent, but it's true.

    Editing's been the priority for a while now.  As such, I don't have much time for writing out this post, but I do have some editing tips to share with you.  Since I'm cutting out 27,000 words (YA guidelines? Oops), I'm learning some things about it.  Like:

  • It helps if you print it out.  I don't know whether this seems obvious or not, but my eyes seem to catch a lot more mistakes -- and things that aren't mistakes, but aren't right, either -- when I have a hard copy actually in my hands.  Also, a paper manuscript, while a little more cumbersome, is perfectly portable.  (School, hmm?)
  • A pen with bright-colored ink does wonders.  Sure, it might look ridiculous, and some might wonder if a rainbow puked all over your manuscript.  But it makes it much easier to pick out your revisions from the black printer ink if you do.  (Mine's neon pink.  Nerd that I am, I've named it Slasher.)
  • Read through each chapter individually and pick out the main points. That way, you know what you're cutting out:  everything else.  It's not always fun, but there's no use keeping it if it's just tying your book down.  You might have to rewrite a little to patch up those main points, make them flow, but hey -- you're a writer, aren't you?
  • Take it sentence by sentence, word by word.  This is one of the biggest pains there is, but it's also the one of the most important.  Analyze the syntax of your sentence, then any alternative ways to state it;  if another can say what the original did, but with less words, I'd take it.  Very big note:  If it's going to compromise the meaning or ring to your sentence, I probably wouldn't do it unless I had to.  But it's really just personal preference. 
  • Contractions are your friends.  I mean, merging two words into one?  Sounds to me like a desperate author came up with that one.
  • Use Search and Destroy -- um, Replace.  Search and Replace.  For example, if you're going by a title a lot, you might consider swapping most of those 2-worded titles for a single-worded alternative. (For example, if you have a queen named Alice and you find yourself calling her "the queen" more often than you need to, you might just call her "Alice" every once in a while, if the situation's right.  Also, you need to make sure you didn't alternate the two purposely to avoid repetition, before replacing all of them.)
  • If there's something you absolutely need to include, consider moving it to another book.  A thread of backstory?  An explanation?  A revelation?  If taking that scene or such and weaving it into a later book in the series (provided there is one) makes as much sense as putting it into this one, it might make sense just to hold off on it until then.  But only if it still holds effectiveness in that other place.
  • Cut out all of the "thats" that you don't need.  See that last sentence?  The second "that" didn't need to be there.  Chances are, that you've put many of those in your manuscript; I definitely did.  But there's good news: after I've noticed that I overuse the word and have begun to actively cut it from my manuscript, I haven't been making the mistake as much.
  • Cut out all of the "ofs" you don't need. This one helps too.  Also, instead of putting "off of," "from" usually works just as well.
  • Remember:  not many people have died from editing, and it really does help.  While I don't actively enjoy editing, I love the results I see in my book because of it.  A tighter manuscript really is better, and hopefully, agents, publishers, and readers all agree.


Jennifer Pickrell said...

Hi Jenna, I followed the link on Literary Rambles to your blog.

I'm also editing and know what it's like to have to cut such a huge amount of words. I've chopped 12k already and still so many to go.

Good luck with your WIP!

Barbara Kloss said...

Wow...this is great! Followed the link on Literary Rambles as well. New follower!

Jenna said...

It's good to hear that you've chopped so many words, Jennifer. That proves it's possible. And thanks, I'll probably need some luck with mine!

Thank you both for reading and commenting!