Rewriting: Cutting Excess Words

Yesterday a friend sent out a copy of her manuscript.  She’s added everything she needs to add and cut everything she can cut.  But it is still too long and she needs to cut about 1/4 of the overall length.

Here are the steps that I take when confronted with this task.

Paragraph Level

First things first, I examine each section and/or paragraph. Every once in a while duplicate or similar information sneaks in and I spot a whole section I can cut.

Then there are the paragraphs that just don’t move things forward or go into way too much details. When 1000 words need to go it is nice to find 500 words that I can compress into one or two hundred.

But what about those marvelous details? Just in case I realize that I need some of them later, I copy and paste to a file I call “stuff.” It seems like a lot of writers do this. I just spoke to a woman that calls her cut file “blah blah.”


Next I make sure that sentence structure is as efficient as it can be. When things are inefficient, I’ve noticed it is usually because the order isn’t chronological or cause then effect. So that tends to be my next fix.

This is also where I look for a strong verb that I can use vs using a weak verb and an adverb. Specific nouns can also replace general nouns with a lot of description. Think about it. “Gate-leg table” is so much briefer and more specific than “a table with a leaf that folds up, supported by a leg that swings out.” Not that that is a particularly good description but hopefully you get the point.

Problem Words

Once the duplicate paragraphs are gone and the sentence structure is efficient, I go after problem words. My own personal problem words?  “That” and “start.”

“Start” is definitely a word that we need in certain sentences such as “school starts tomorrow.”  But other times it is filler.  “He started to talk.”  “She started toward the door.”  “I started writing.”  How much better to write something more concrete.  “He spoke.”  “She strode to the door.”  “I wrote.”

I have to admit that I laughed at the infographic below on filler words.  When my son imitates me he says, “Well, actually…”  I don’t use the phrase in my writing but it is my verbal tag line.

Check out this infographic by Grammar Check.  Do you have filler words or phrases that didn’t make the list?  Mention them in the comments below.