Today we're going to talk about slimming down. No, not dieting. Are you kidding? After what I've eaten this weekend? No, even I'm not that masochistic. Today, loves, we're going to talk about how to manage the waistline of your writing. I know a lot of us are always focused on word count. What is industry standard on this? Did I make the mark for NaNo? That kind of thing. But there comes a time when you need to cut words with reckless abandon.
|Use sparingly no matter what School House Rock says.|
Holy crap, 79 instances of "only"? I hate that word! 265 uses of "just"? And yeah, there's so much "that" in my manuscript I need to serve it with a bag of chips. So, I did what any crash dieter does: WORK. I went through the manuscript and evaluated each use on a case by case basis. Sometimes, those words are necessary for flow or because it's what this character would say. Doing self-edits like this can be precarious as you try to balance good form with character voice, rhythm and scene structure with flowing prose. I discovered, though, that this further tightened the screws on an already solid manuscript. I found that some sentences where just victims of shitty construction. Remove that word, re-tweak the phrasing and voila! Shiny new (and better) sentence, and therefore a better novel.
You have to make these decisions and you have to be ruthless with yourself. Yes, self-editing can be difficult and time-consuming, but it's worth it. Not only that, you need to do it. If you want any sort of career, you must be open to criticism and suggestions where cuts are concerned. But you probably knew that already. The other thing you need, though, is a confidence in your work that is not self-deluded. You need to be able to trust yourself to know what's best for your manuscript. If an agent or editor asks you to do something against your "vision" you need to be able to back it up and fight for that decision with more than, "because I say so". Self-editing without coddling your "muse" is one of the ways to build up that skill.