Tighten Your Text: Cutting Excess Words

Yesterday my post on Writing Nonfiction that Sings appeared on the Muffin, the blog for Women on Writing! One tip involved cutting excess words.  I working on a hard copy.  One reader asked if this really makes a difference.

Yes, I really do.

Monday and Tuesday I rewrote a nonfiction title, working on a hard copy. My goal was a final word count of 15,000 words down from the 16,870 I had. I knew how many words I should have in each chapter. Some were fine. From others, I only needed to cut 40 words. That I could do on-screen without much trouble.

But another chapter had to be cut by about 400 words or approximately 25% of the the chapter’s length.  A word here and there wasn’t going to accomplish it.

As I read the hard copy, I spread it out on the dining room table and noticed that most chapter sections were about one page long.  One was closer to three making it easy to see which section needed the most radical tightening.  I reread, identified one topic that touched on each important point, then highlighted what I wanted to keep and x-ed out what needed to go.  I did the rewrite on-screen but it still wasn’t tight enough.  I printed it off and went back into the dining room.

When you are looking at a hard copy with only a couple of words crossed out, you can’t lie to yourself.  Not much has been cut. That’s vital when 25% of the total word count needs to go.

A word to the wise – cutting something in half often results in something that feels clunky and doesn’t flow.  When this happens, I open a brand new file and start from scratch. It may seem like a lot of work, but I know where I need to go and what I need to say.  The excess never makes it onto the page and writing it again helps it flow.

But once I’ve keyed it in?  I print it out and head back into the dining room to see what I can cut.


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