Every author dreads the infamous writer’s block where the brain goes blank and every word seems painfully hard to conjure. However, what happens when you have the opposite issue? There is reems of material available on how to write, how to bring up a word count and everything to do with bulking out a piece of work. Yet, there is little on how to cut it down and edit succinctly despite the issue being just as much of a problem.
Work that is too long risks being boring, missing the point and losing the reader, and what budding writer wants that? The below handy tips have been compiled to make it easier to shorten writing without the risk of feeling as if important details have been omitted or context left behind.
Root out the obvious
Without a doubt, the easiest way to cut work down is by looking for any typos or other grammatical issues. Whether it’s excessive comma splicing, one too many exclamation marks or a word with too many vowels, these can add up quickly and dropping them will help to refine any piece that is a little too lengthy. Don’t be lazy either and just put work once through a google spell-checker, take the time to read it by hand. Print it out, have a pencil close by and look for any issues that screen-tired eyes may have glazed over. Although a tad tedious, this will help to shave off unnecessary and often embarrassing mistakes that also top up the word count.
Put some space between you and your work
This is a tip that is famously championed by best-selling horror author Stephen King. King advocates for writing a draft and then simply placing it in a drawer for a number of weeks or months to allow the brain to refresh, gain new perspective and then edit at a later date. The period of separation makes a world of difference and often coming back with clear head can be the difference between a good and a great piece of writing. Think about a publishing office: authors and editors are separated into very distinctive job roles and the two will rarely cross over as they require such different perspectives and modes of working.
Are you using eight words where two will suffice?
Everybody loves a long and romanticised description, however sometimes too much is too much. Whilst adjectives and similes are well and good, try not to be too heavy handed as this can make writing clunky, long-winded and awkward. If this is impossible to resist, try going back in post-production and cutting down sentences with more than two descriptives. This can actually often make work more effective as it cuts to the point adding a greater feeling of drama and atmosphere. Twitter is a surprisingly great way of training for this as its 140 character limit instills the discipline of expression within a narrow format.
Phone a friend
Especially if the piece is personal, it can be difficult to step away and look at it from an unbiased perspective. The work is read with a personal tone of voice, the words are personal and the format is familiar. However, this same familiarity can be detrimental to getting the best finished version possible and this thought may not have occurred. The best way to get around this is by handing a piece over to a fresh set of eyes. A friend or peer will offer a new perspective on something and amongst the highlights, there are bound to be areas of improvement or room for culling that they will quickly pick up on. Try not to get offended by this and instead take heed of their advice and use it to re-draft and edit work in a way that makes writing slicker and more comprehendible.
Sometimes in life “you can’t have your cake and eat it” and the very same principle can often apply to writing. There may be pages and pages of content that is genuinely superb and has been refined heavily but if there is a publishing word count set, this must be adhered to. The only way around this is by being harsh, prioritising and cutting content down. It may be hard, it may be quality material but if there is better writing to be found within the same piece, consider prioritising what makes it to print. Having this ability is rare and makes for some of the best authors as it allows for work to be looked at in a much more pragmatic way.
Often, the written word reads completely differently to when it is said out loud. When writing things down, the brain has a funny way of being able to gloss over any gaping, structural holes that the tongue just can’t. Read anyone’s work out loud and it would be challenging to find a single individual who didn’t encounter at least one grammar irregularity whereby a phrase no longer made sense once spoken. By taking the time to speak a piece, this allows for judgement on whether the content is actually interesting once said and if it translates well across both mediums. Whether things need a comma or simply sound disjointed, it is a useful exercise to perform.
Overall, in the world of writing there are worse issues to have. Be grateful of the ability to create lots of quality content and savour the long descriptions that so many of us love in novels. However, never be afraid to show restraint and cut down or shorten writing that is just too lengthy. Although it can be heart-breaking to remove phrases that were patiently crafted, chances are that it will pay off ten-fold in the future, whether that’s meeting a word-count to receive a first at university or producing under publisher guidelines to land a dream book deal.