For editing.

My system, and I know from hearing it from lots of other writers, is to just write. No planning, or not much of one.

But even with an outline, a lot of fluff is going to go into the manuscript that is unnecessary, boring, unclear, or for some other reason needs a good edit.

I learned about cutting ten percent when doing lots of short stories. I like the idea because it’s a straightforward way to edit. And it works.

First, you finish the piece and type “the end” at the end. Then you read through it and cut out every single word that isn’t needed.

They lurk around as modifiers where a stronger noun or verb would work better. They hang out at the end of sentences in trailing prepositional phrases. Sometimes they’re completely unnecessary sentences. Or even paragraphs.

Sometimes you just need to change the phrasing so it’s cleaner and clearer. I find this true when listing action taken. I might start with one action and tack on a phrase like “after she did such and so.” Such and so would have been better at the beginning of the sentence. And might help eliminate a few words such as “after she did.”

I admit, this becomes harder to do the more you write because you begin to edit yourself as you go. But this is a good thing. You will write faster, have to edit less, and have a much better story to show for it with less effort.

So, take a short story, old or new, or a chapter from a novel you’ve written or are writing. Write down the word count, go at it, and then see what the count is after your first pass-through. Not ten percent? You aren’t working hard enough. Go through it again. It’s taken me, sometimes, three or four passes to hit the ten percent mark. But when I do, the story or chapter is always better. Every time.


Writing is hard work, whether you’re writing an email, a grocery list, the Great American Novel, a non-fiction book, or anything at all. Some things we write don’t need much editing, but almost everything can use some (cross off those cookies on that grocery list—you know you’re on a diet!).

In today’s world of more and more to read, from books to periodicals and from computer screen to cell phone screen, the way we write can have a huge impact on others understanding what we’re trying to say. The better it’s written, the more people will read.

One way to make your writing better is to cut out every extraneous word and phrase.

Where do you find these words and phrases? Here’s a quick list:

  • Get rid of the word “that” if doing so won’t hurt.
  • Get rid of excess modifiers—adjectives and adverbs. You can spot them easily if you look for words ending in “ly.” There are others that don’t end in “ly,” but they’re the fastest to spot. Try to substitute the modifier with a stronger, more descriptive noun or verb. If you don’t know exactly what these parts of speech are, bush up on your grammar because this is vitally important if you want to be a published author.
  • Watch for trailing prepositional phrases. These are often three-word phrases at the end of sentences that turn out to be unnecessary.

If you do only these three things, your writing will improve dramatically. And don’t worry, if you do it enough times, you will begin to write leaving out the excess “thats,” modifiers and prepositional phrases automatically as you go. Try it and see.