Sunday, June 26, 2011

Editing. It's all about letting go.

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 clich├ęd. 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!


  1. Well done - editing is such a difficult process, and I applaud your method of taking 300 word chunks and rewriting them as 250 word chunks. What a stellar idea!

    I'll never forget the first timeI looked back at my mss and realized I had adverbs EVERYWHERE, a sever case of "Then-itis" and I had labored under the impression that I was JK Rowling and Georgett Heyer at once. It was horrifying.

  2. That's a very good point. It is about letting go. I've feared that parts of my manuscript that I like will someday be cut by an agent. I'll just have to accept that things come and go, but it's okay. :)

  3. Amazing :) I've never been able to write more than about 80k on a novel. I actually applaud your ability to write 170,000 words. But also, great editing job! It's awful to kill your darlings, so I have a document I use to save everything I *really* can't let go of. That's not very helpful, but I like suggesting that to people.

    I tend to use a lot of adverbs when I write and it's awful because they're rarely needed. Do you have any tips on, you know... not using so many adverbs?

    I agree. So many girls in YA are pathetic in the extreme. Sometimes, I read books, and I feel like giving the afore-mentioned girl a good slap. I try *hard* to make my characters unpathetic but then they usually turn out bitchy and/or mean. :(

    I love the Lemony Snicket quote. I wrote it on my writing binder :)


  4. Thanks everyone for commenting!

    @Audrey - Oh! I forgot to mention that. I always save my original drafts, too. I save them as PDFs so I can't edit them by mistake or anything. :D

    My girl characters tend to be a bit bitchy, too ... although usually they end up having a vulnerable side as well. Sometimes I'm afraid I'm just writing the same character over and over again, though. :P

    Glad you like the Lemony Snicket quote! The man is pretty dang hilarious. :)

  5. Hahaha, that quote is awesome. And everything you said in your post is all too true. :)

  6. Agree with all of the above. I started looking at Sheltered and decided to cut the prologue out because it was just unprofessional. I felt horrible because I loved some of the stuff I had in there, but I put a few of the best phrases in the synopsis and saved it onto my computer.

    I love reading your blog, by the way. Good luck with Walking Shadow!

  7. Gracie - Thanks!

    Anna - Thanks to you, too! Aw, don't feel horrible about it. Yes, taking out the best parts and putting them elsewhere can help. Also, like I said above, I always keep my rough drafts. :) Thanks, and good luck to you too!

  8. I am a young high-school writer. I love to write, and I have written a 45,000 word novella that I would really love to get published. I have polished it and polished it and I think its just about perfect. I have read so much about the publishing agency and even though my dream is to get it published, I am a very realistic girl :) and would appreciate your opinion on what I should do next... should I try to get an agent? Send out query letters and all that? Or not? I would really appreciate your opinion...

  9. Hi Ani,

    It's hard to judge, having not read your book. Have you had others read your work? Because that's one of the most important parts. I can polish by myself over and over again ... but there are still errors and plot holes I would miss, if it weren't for receiving feedback from other writers. :)

    If you want to talk more about it, I'd prefer to do it by email––since it doesn't really pertain to this particular blog post. So, if you have questions you can email me. (


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