Cutting Words: What to do when you have way too many

About two weeks ago, I blogged about having to cut paragraphs and scenes.  This week, I’m cutting again but in a different way.

Late last week I got my editor’s comments on the electoral college book.  For a variety of reasons, my first chapter needs to be shorter.  No big deal, except that it is.  I had 470 words.  My editor wants me to take it down to 300.  Sure, she said “we” but I know she really means me and that’s okay.  I think.

I managed to take it from 470 to 425 by cutting a few sentences near the end that duplicated information from earlier in the chapter.  But now that I’ve done that its going to be a matter of cutting a few words here and a few words there.  I can’t whack entire paragraphs because the content is essential.

I need the ideas, but I also need to express them in fewer words.  Like 33% fewer.  Ouch!

Sometimes the easiest way to do this is to open a new file.  Then I to back to the old document and read the first paragraph.  Flipping to the new document, I rewrite the paragraph.  I’ve got the same ideas and hopefully I have fewer words.  Knowing I need to write shorter, this usually works.

In fact, it works easier than just snipping here and there.  Why?  Because when I do that it reads like I’ve snipped here and there.  Words are obviously missing.  It can feel patchy or clunky.  It definitely feels inelegant.

At one point in my writing career, I would have resisted going to an all new file.  It made me feel like I had wasted all that time.  And my words!  My precious words.

That was then.  Now I realize that a new file keeps me from fixating on what is.  It frees me to contemplate what needs to be.  In the long run, it’s a whole lot faster and less frustrating.

That said, I definitely hope I don’t have to repeat the process for chapters 2 through 8!


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