One Writer’s Journey

March 22, 2018

Tighten Your Text: Cutting Excess Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:41 am
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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.



July 28, 2017

Distance: The Key to a Successful Rewrite

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:08 am
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Put it away for a month.  Whether you are writing  novels, picture books, or poems, you’ve probably been given this advice.  Put your work away.  Gain some distance.  Then it will be much easier to see what needs to be fixed.

And it’s good advice when you have the time and space to take it.  Unfortunately, if you are doing educational writing that happens to be work-for-hire, your deadlines tend to be tight.  You know you don’t have the right word.  A phrase is rough. Something just isn’t working.  But you don’t have time to put it away for a month because you have six weeks from start to finish.  You might find the time to clean the bathroom (oh joy) but then you’re right back to it.  Hopefully swishing the porcelain clean was all the break you’re going to need because it is all you’re going to get.

About 2 weeks ago, I started playing around with a new preschool poem. You can read about it here. It was originally a type of poem known as a Golden Shovel.  Mine was a riff on a Poe’s Eldorado.  To put it mildly, it did not work.  Three lines just wasn’t long enough to develop the rhythm or any type of rhyme scheme I liked.

Version 2, written the next day, was 8 lines long.  Or at least it would be 8 lines when I managed to fill them all in.  Day 3, I filled them in but the rhythm was a bit off.

Day 4 it was almost there but . . . nope.  Some word just wasn’t quite right.  I’d change one word and then change it back.  Then I’d fiddle with a different word.  I suspected that I was on the verge of doing more harm than good so I put it away.

After a break of about a week, I got it back out this morning.  Coffee cup in hand, I changed one word in line 3.  Line 4 wasn’t quite right.  I stared at that for a bit, changed 2 words.  Changed one back.  Changed the other to something brand new.  It took me maybe 10 minutes.  Ten minutes to fix what I’d messed around with for 2 days.

Distance.  It really does help.

I wonder if it would have gone quicker if I’d set it aside for a full month?  Just kidding.  But I do have another week to ignore it before I show it to my critique group.


June 15, 2017

Rewriting: Cutting those Precious Scenes

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:28 am
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“Be willing to kill your darlings.”

In any other vocation, that advice would raise eyebrows but as a writer it is pretty straight forward.  You have to be willing to cut excess verbage.  And most of us don’t have any problem with that.  We are perfectly willing to cut a word here or a phrase there.

But we hesitate when it comes time to cut several paragraphs, a sidebar, a scene or a chapter. It took so long to weave those sentences together.  So very long.  ::whimper::

This was the situation I found myself in as I rewrote Advertising Overload earlier this week.  Somehow, I had written sidebars on what an infomercial is in both chapter 2 and chapter 5.  And the two weren’t even substantially different.  It was pretty easy for me to decide which one had to go.  But then I also realized that the ending of chapter 3 too closely mirrored the beginning of chapter 4.  It meant having to cut an entire page or about three paragraphs.

Oh. So. Painful.

When I have to delete a block of paragraphs, a scene or a chapter, I’ve found something that helps.  I don’t highlight and then delete.  Instead I cut the passages that need to go and then I paste them into a new file.  Yep, I save them.  That way if it turns out that this section really was essential than I still have it.  All I have to do is go to the correct file and copy then paste it back into my manuscript.

On a good day, I call this file “cuttings” or “stuff.”  That’s usually when I ‘m cutting a few paragraphs.  If, on the other hand, I’m cutting a scene or chapter, I’m much more likely to come up with a vaguely impolite name but I definitely save it.  It makes it a lot easier to cut things if I know that they aren’t really gone.  They’re just out of the way.

The amazing thing?  I almost never go back to this file so that I can restore something.  It just makes it easier to do what is essential.


April 10, 2017

Deadline Dead Ahead

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:01 am
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I’m doing hard copy edits on the book that’s due today. I have two more chapters and the backmatter to go.  This gizmo to the right has been my best friend.

It is my mom’s typing stand.  Mom was a graduate of Miss Hickey’s Business School. She worked in accounting but, to my knowledge, she was never a secretary which is kind of sad because this is one handy-dandy stand.

I generally only do one hard copy-edit per manuscript, unless a section is giving me troubles.  When that happens, I print it out, go into the dining room and work on paper.  Then I come back into my office and prop the manuscript up on the stand.

I hope that all of you take the time to do a paper edit when you write something.  I’ve already been through the manuscript 3 or so times on-screen.  And I’ve listened to it read by Speak.  I find mistakes via Speak that I don’t find on-screen.  I find mistakes on paper that I didn’t hear and sure didn’t see on-screen.

Given the fact that we want to give our editors the best possible work, I would definitely recommend doing a hard copy edit.  But you’re going to have to find your own typing stand.  This one is mine.



October 12, 2016

Deadlines: How Close Do You Cut It?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:18 am
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I business-1067978_1920have a book due today.  In an ideal world, I’d have spent yesterday working through the last of my hard copy edits.  Of course, in an ideal world jr. wouldn’t have come home from school spiking a fever.

Granted, he’s a teenager so it isn’t like I need to be at his beck and call. But, you know how it is.  If someone else is here, you just don’t get as much done.  First he has to tell me his head hurts.  He may be 17 but he’s never willing to get over-the-counter meds out without saying something to me first.  Then his stomach was bugging him and that’s when we discovered the fever.

For better or worse, I tend to meet my deadlines without a whole lot of wiggle room.  Of course, that’s because things like this seem to happen on a regular basis.  When I was working on the Pearl Harbor book, I did hard copy edits on a clip board leaning against a wall in the emergency room while my dad slept.  They finally diagnosed him with . . . I think it was pneumonia that time . . . and gave him a bed.  But I edited at least two chapters with beeping and nurses bustling to and fro.

I try to have things ready to turn in the day before things are due, but that seldom seems to work out. In part, I think it is because I become much more productive and efficient as the deadline nears.  What can I say?  Monday, I did hard copy edits on 2 chapters and got everything changed on the computer.  Yesterday, I did hard copy edits on the other 6 chapters and got 2 chapters worth changed on the computer.  That means that today I have to type up the changes for four more chapters.  I also have to edit and update the back matter and clean up the formating on the bibliography.  It will probably take me about 3 hours.

This may not be the best method but it works for me.  I think that I’ve missed one deadline in something like 20 years.  Fingers crossed that as you read this, I’m attaching the file to an e-mail and sending it in!



February 24, 2009

Editing a translation

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:05 am
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Have you ever wondered what an editor does when they acquire an international title that must be translated?  If so, Carp Tales, the newsletter of the SCBWI Tokyo region, has an interview with editor Cheryl Klein.   Klein will be leading the Missouri SCBWI retreat in March. 

The interview includes information on Klein’s background, how she acquired Moriboto by Nahoko Uehashi, the challenges of working in translation and more.


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