Don’t tell anyone. Please. This is a tremendous secret that, as an author, I could be judged harshly for:
I love editing. I love having word limits. I love going through and finding things to cut. To me, it’s like taking an ugly, clumpy blob of clay and cutting and shaping it until it’s something beautiful you can set on a book shelf with pride.
But I didn’t always feel this way. I’m naturally a very detailed person when it comes to verbal or written storytelling. When I first began writing the manuscript for my Sophia’s War series as a newbie writer when I was 19 years old, it was 303,300 words and the sequel was 245,034 words. I remember thinking, “If anyone ever tells me I need to cut my word count, I don’t know what I could possibly cut! Everything I’ve written is absolutely necessary!” That’s a very immature, inexperienced outlook to have.
However, if this is the stance you currently have on your own work, take heart! Give it time! With more writing under your belt (and more reading. Don’t forget the reading!), you’ll come back to that manuscript in a few months or years and you’ll be astounded with how merciless you become. You’ll hack through those excessive words and superfluous details with glee to find the well-groomed story underneath.
I’ve begun taking the approach that if I even think I should cut it, I cut it. (If I’m on the fence about it for any reason, though, I have a document titled “Spares” that I paste these lines or dialogue onto just in case it fits better somewhere else later). Something that helps me is, I read the sentence or dialogue with and without the line or words in question. 99% of the time, it sounds more concise and less contrived without it.
Another thing we have to keep in mind (and something I struggled with for years) is to trust your readers. They aren’t stupid. You don’t have to point out why something is funny or why a character makes certain decisions. That was one of the most liberating things for me to discover as a writer. I felt it improved my writing by a tenfold. There is a way of doing this without making it feel as if you are rushing through or skipping necessary transitions.
So don’t balk at word limits or being unsparing during the editing process. These restrictions can be your best friend, if you let them. To me, these limitations make your editing process more liberating than encumbering.
What is your opinion on word limits? On cutting sentences or whole paragraphs from your works?