For My Writerly Readers Who Write – Cidney Swanson

For My Writerly Readers Who Write

Like most writerly types, I am wordy. Verbose. When two words will suffice, I am likely to use twenty-six. Or two hundred. Or two thousand. (See what I did there?) (And here?)

I have a way of tidying up these (unnecessary) words that I’ve never heard anyone else suggest, and I want to share it.

Though I always try to remove the deadweight during one of the final revisions, I will often find myself with a larger word count than is ideal. Here’s how I tackle it: by deciding what final word count would make me happy, and evenly removing the words from each page.

That means that if I have an 85,000 word manuscript, and I want to get it down to 78,000, I will need to remove 7,000 words. If I have 365 pages, then I need to take out an average of 19 words per page.

I do this rigorously. If I have only removed 15 words, I start back at the top and look for 4 more. And here’s the thing: with VERY FEW exceptions, I can always find them. I keep track by writing the number on the back of the page I’ve just edited. If I found 19, I write “0” on the page. 25? I write “-6” because I have exceeded my number and removed 6 extra words. Yay! But if there is a page where the tension is already super tight, and I just can’t take out 19 words, I am okay removing what I can. If I remove 8 fewer than 19, I would be 11 words behind on my ideal count. So I would write either “+11” or if I were adding it to the previous “-6” page, I would write “+5” because I’m really only off by 5 excess words.

The amazing thing is that even when I’m sure a manuscript is tight, tight, tight, I can always find words I don’t need. The end result is a manuscript that is tighter, lighter, and cheaper to turn into a book. Yay!

This really hit home for me at a recent writing retreat, where an agent and an editor were both commenting on how they feel pressure to keep word counts low because of spiraling printing costs. (This would affect audiobook production as well, obviously. And copy edits and line edits and …. you get the idea.)

Here are the quick and dirty ones you can look for:

  • Create contractions for EVERYONE who would speak with contractions. (Could’ve for could have)
  • 20 years becomes “decades”
  • in five hundred years = “in five centuries”
  • finding out = “learning”
  • it does not matter = “it’s irrelevant”
  • I grab a Frisbee and send it sailing toward her = I send a Frisbee sailing toward her
  • Get rid of adverbs! “my arms snake tightly…” = “my arms snake”
  • Get rid of modifiers in general! “says my mom” = “says Mom”

I hope this helps anyone who has a too-high word count. Er, make that “wordy manuscript”!

(Got a go-to? Share it in the comments!)



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