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.

12 thoughts on “THE 10% SOLUTION

  1. Excellent post, Jan. This is a good reminder to get rid of those unnecessary words and tighten the story.

  2. Great post, Jan! I learned how to do this from writing lots of ten-minute plays. It was a great way to teach myself to write short stories, too. I think that’s one reason why I have so much trouble writing long novels. 🙂 bobbi c.

    • Hi, Bobbi! I have to remind myself of this once in awhile. Otherwise I tend to get wordy. So be careful–before you know it you’ll be writing 100,000-word novels. LOL Seriously, it could happen. Well, 80,000-word ones, anyway.

  3. This is the best advice. The most important thing is to write the story, book, play, poem, article. Then as William Zinsser said in Writing Well, you put away your writer’s hat and don that of the editor. I know I have to put the essential draft away for a time so that I can see it with fresh eyes. It hurts to cut away the unnecessary fluff, adjectives and adverbs, etc., but it has to be done.

  4. Another great refresher lesson, Jan. I can usually take out a good chunk of that 10% just by cutting “that” and “just.” I also have a habit of putting in characters’ names when they’re spoken to, i.e., “Another great refresher lesson, Jan.”

    Putting those dumb examples aside, I edit as I write so I don’t know what overall percentage I cut. 10% is probably right and a good goal. Thanks for this reminder.

    • LOL, Earl, I like your “dumb” examples. And yes, the more we write, the more we’re apt to self-edit as we go for the small stuff. I think most of us can still go back and get rid of another 10%, though.
      Just what do you think of that, Earl?? LOL
      Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Good advice on editing and looking at what needs to be cut. I always put the mss away for two or three months, work on something else in the meantime, and return to the original mss. When I come to it fresh, so to speak, I am so much more aware of excess and ambiguity.

    • Hi, Susan. I know a lot of people do that–put the work away for awhile. I usually don’t have the patience to do that. I just work on it until I can’t think of another thing to do to it. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Amen. So many people think extra “little words” aren’t worth bothering to cut. Not so. Not only do they eat up space, but they detract from the story. Narrative needs to move.

    • Exactly, Sara. Less is more. When I read some of the old bestsellers, I often notice how much could have been cut to make them smoother and better. Thanks for commenting!

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