I used to think editing was just about fixing typos, adding in a few more details here and there, and calling it a day. Ha!
If anything, I've been taking things out of Walking Shadow, not adding them in. Originally, the manuscript was nearly 170,000 words long. Now it's a little under 98,000 words. That means I've taken out approximately 72,000 words, which is about the entire length of Unraveling (the shortest novel I've written). And I'm still word-chopping. Yikes.
I used to think a bigger word count would make me look more impressive or something. The truth is, a huge word count makes you look unprofessional. It means you're afraid of editing and letting go.
But you have to let go. You have to kill your darlings.
Last year I tried querying Walking Shadow when it was still nearly 150,000 words long. (Oh God, what was I thinking?) The first time an agent suggested cutting it down to 100,000 words, I just about had a heart attack. Cut out 50,000 words? When I'd already cut out 20,000? NO WAY!
But then I started reading through my manuscript again, and I realized there was a lot I could cut out––adverbs, dialogue tags, the hideous word "that", needless descriptions, telling instead of showing, statements of the obvious, etc. After going through the whole thing again, I managed to cut it down to about 99,000 words.
And I'm still going. Recently I've been taking out 300-word chunks of my manuscript and chopping them down to about 250 words. This forces me to refine every sentence, reshaping them so that they have the same meaning but in fewer words.
But editing is more than fixing typos and cutting out unneeded words ...
This morning I cut an entire scene. It was a good 1,500 words or so. I'd been debating over whether to cut it out or not for a long time––because I always thought it was a fairly well-written scene ... but, well, it was a scene where the main character starts cutting herself, and in the end I decided it was too melodramatic and clichéd. Not only that, but it seemed uncharacteristic of her since she was kind of doing it over a boy, and I didn't want her to seem all whiney and pathetic. There are too many of those girls in YA literature these days, and I don't want Cassandra to be one of them.
So that's something else important to think about when editing: creating meaning. What are you trying to say? What message are you conveying?
Nothing is going to be perfect the first time you write it. The first time you write something, it's just like talking; you write whatever comes to mind. And like the brilliant Lemony Snicket once said, "If writers wrote as carelessly as some people talk, then al;dkfj;dsf;jsd."
Okay, that didn't really have anything to do with anything. I just really, really like that quote.
Anyway, if you want to read a longer rant of mine about editing, you can check out this older post.
Anyone else have editing tips and/or methods? Please share!