This is not a post about self-injurious behavior.
It’s about learning to love cutting words.
I started a fictional blog called THE IRATE SAVANT back in 2004. When I decided to turn it into a novel, I pulled out all the narrative material, maybe about half the blog in total, which gave me somewhere around 40,000 words.
Novels, I was told, needed to be between 70,000-100,000 words to be publishable. Fine. I needed to flesh out a lot of things anyway. So I added another 45,000 words, for a total of 85,000.
After a few months of querying, I put the book away. For four years. I knew it needed work, but I wasn’t sure what kind.
Then last December, I pulled the book out and read it for the first time in four years. Slept on it. Woke up and had an idea about how to fix.
And that’s when I discovered a love of cutting.
I had always been good at economy. Eliminating wordiness. But until I sat down that day back in December, I’d never known what a joy it can be to cut huge swaths out of a novel. Ten thousand words–gone at the press of a button. Five thousand here, another five thousand there.
The key was, the more I cut, the better the book became. Those 10,000 words were just taking up space. What I said in those 5,000 words had already been said better elsewhere.
It wasn’t all cutting. I combined scenes and characters, and those new scenes and characters, serving multiple functions now, came alive. And it wasn’t all big chunks either. Lots of extra words. A line of dialogue. Adverbs and adjectives, of course.
In the end I cut something like 55,000 words, adding about another 15,000, for a total of 50,000. That’s short for a novel. But it’s how long the story is. And the story, now called BEHOLD A LOVELY STRANGER, is ten times better for it.
Part of me wishes it were another way, that I didn’t have to write 80,000, then cut 40,000, then add another 45K, cut 55. That’s, let’s see . . . a lot of words. Maybe some other writers don’t have to write at least three words for every one they end up with that’s good. But I know I need that raw material from which to hone something good. And what’s more, I’ve finally started enjoying doing it.