One word at a time

scissors-editI’m line editing.  After almost three years of writing words into my first novel, for the last month I’ve been taking them out, one by one.  With two line-by-line passes through my draft, I’ve shrunk 107,000 words to 98,000, dipping below that 100,000 word marker beyond which, apparently, novice writers venture at their peril.

Line editing is an interesting if tedious technical exercise and it’s involved a few tactics, amongst which:

  • Culling 99% of occurrences of these words: really, rather, just, quite, very, oh, so, well and suddenly. I said a silent prayer to the twin gods of Search and Delete.
  • Appraising every instance of verb + adverb and replacing many, many of them with… a more descriptive verb. Yes, you can’t escape that one. I love my well-thumbed Roget’s more than ever now.
  • Interrogating every adjective cosying up to a noun and consigning two out of every three to the scrap-heap. I’m ashamed to admit, there were places where an inexplicable, suffocating, weighty chain of three adjectives dragged down a noun.  Oops.
  • Radical surgery on long sentences and complex constructions.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition: Eliminating the second and subsequent instances of a favoured word of the day – over and over.
  • Sometimes it’s obvious who’s thinking or saying something. Deleting he/she said/thought where it isn’t needed dealt with another hundred or so surplus words.
  • It doesn’t always matter what a character is wearing, or what colour eyes they have.  In fact, as far as I can see, it only matters when it tells you something about the character that is useful or relevant to the reader. Physical descriptions resembling witness statements have gone; only selective, telling details remain.

This literary fight-the-flab regime has been a good deal more effective than the one I’m (still) trying to impose on my extra physical pounds.  Aiding the process of editorial expurgation was an e-book I purchased recently (no, I’m not going to tell you what it was). Clearly never having been subjected to a disciplined editing process, this book was overrun with an abundance of wasted words, superfluous sentences and drawn-out dialogue.  Reading it (or, I confess, just the first 20% of it) made me realise how irritating – and dull – it is to plough through pages of rambling narrative, bloated with excess detail.  I saw where my first novel would be without the rigour of a line edit.

It’s not perfect – how can it be?  But it was a serious job, diligently executed. Doubtless if I’m fortunate enough to attract the attentions of an agent and a publisher, there will be a second and even subsequent culls.  But for now, it’s enough.

This weekend, my first novel went out to two test readers.  Now all I want to do is hide under the duvet and eat ice cream.

238 thoughts on “One word at a time

  1. Great article! I love to edit, thought I was good at it until I began hanging out with other writers and found I had so much to learn! Good luck on your book. 🙂

  2. Thank you Sue! One thing I’ve learned is that the editing is so much harder than the writing. Reading poorly edited work certainly helps throw light on the things that annoy a reader, which I found useful. I still feel there’s a danger in paring down too far, but you have to go so much further than you imagine – and then some – before you get that feeling.

    1. You’re right there, and it’s another skill a writer needs to master. It was always so much easier in my marketing copy for clients. So much harder when you’ve invested weeks and months in your own words. I was told to expect to extract at least 10% of my draft and I didn’t believe it, but that’s just about where I am. To get FP’d this week is a joy, by the way, and perfect timing. 🙂

  3. I understand your pain. I’m not a novelist or writing for a living but I understand how frustrating it is to read through, revise and sometimes re-write something you’ve already invested so much time and effort on. It can feel so much easier to just type away and put all your thoughts on paper (or, in most cases, on screen) but the hard work comes after you’ve finish your first draft. It’s a time when we have to reflect on our work and be our own critics.

    Good luck with your novel! 🙂

    1. Indeed! And editing requires such a different approach from the creative abandon of writing that first draft, when it’s all about imagination and expression and how much you can put in. Editing is a clinical cull, a technical search for the better word or phrase. But it’s just as vital to the quality of the finished article.

    1. I know what you mean. In my earlier post More is More I faced the same. My mentor’s advice on involving ‘all the senses’ proved invaluable. Thanks for your comment and good luck with yours.

    1. Thanks! Though my Beta feedback has been much more generous and positive than I had dared hope for, so the ice cream hasn’t taken such a hit.

  4. I know the feeling of letting test readers–or beta readers, as I call them–check out your work. But you obviously trust them, and if you trusted them with your work, they must be very good at what they do. Good luck with your book.

    1. I trusted them, yes – as book lovers, readers, friends, and honest, dependable critics; bold and opinionated and generous enough to speak their mind. It was a big ask, but their feedback is invaluable and I’m indebted to them.

        1. That’s how I got started… I made a new friend on an Arvon Foundation writing course and she became my writing buddy. We made a commitment to share a minimum of 500 words a week (we were both so busy but reckoned that even with no time at all, we could manage 500 words – in reality we often did more). We described ourselves as ‘the blind leading the blind’ but we both learned from different sources, shared our work, exchanged opinions, helped, encouraged and supported one another. Now we both have completed stories ‘ready to go’. It’s a great way to combat the isolation that often comes with writing.

          1. I’m fascinated reading your blog. I am also just finishing my first book, but i have a wonderful secret weapon that has made it so much easier. I have a co-author. We live 1500 miles apart and thank the fates daily for Skype. We spend 2-4 hours a day working together, lately doing many major editing passes through the book we hope to publish soon. When we’re editing, we read sections aloud to each other several times…it’s amazing what reading aloud can bring to your attention. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have someone they can work with effectively. We have known each other for over 40 years; we’ve both professional musicians and have been chamber music partners for all those years. Perhaps that kind of cooperative creativity has helped us transition into the world of words. May the literary gods smile on all of us who are just taking flight!

          2. The way you collaborate sounds lovely. I have a writing buddy and we share sections of our work, helping to review/critique and keep one another on track, although our writing is quite different. I agree completely about reading your words out loud. I am often to be found reading chunks of ‘Singled Out’ aloud to myself! It makes it much easier to spot where words aren’t flowing easily, or where sentences are too long or rambling. Thanks for sharing your experience of collaborative writing and I wish you all good fortune with your project.

    1. Ah, chasing perfection. It’s tempting to keep going, but how does one know when it’s as good as it can possibly be? I’ve had this discussion with my writing buddies before and each has a different answer. I believe I’m there when I want to start adding things back in again and I have to stop myself.

      1. I’ve been there! I take so much out that it loses the original feeling and I have to add stuff back to make sense. I have to force myself to stop editing or I would never finish anything!

  5. Best wishes with the book, I think cutting so many words might perhaps have been a little painful. I don’t write but I do edit, only our church magazine, the great joy for me there is encouraging as many people as possible to have a go and have the pleasure of seeing their stuff included, cutting sometimes I have to do but I always feel the pain.

    1. Thanks for your good wishes. I remember editing my school magazine (so, so many years ago!) – that was all about encouraging people to have a go and take pride in seeing their stories, articles and pictures in print. There the idea was to edit with as light a touch as possible, so each contributor would see their words, not someone else’s interpretation. I loved that the school mag was more about encouragement and motivation than about perfection. It’s a bit different with #myfirstnovel though!

  6. I am doing the same thing with my story. It bores the daylights out of me. But it is one word at a time. I need to put more meat on my characters and that to is a drag.

    1. I think the experience of writing something substantial like a novel involves many peaks and troughs. I struggled through the middle of my story, until I better understood my characters’ motivations and needs. Then I had to go back through the first half – a rewrite in many places – to put meat on my characters, just as you are doing. But don’t lose faith in what you’re doing… for me, it proved a very worthwhile exercise. The more discipline and thoroughness with which you approach the task, the greater the return. I got to the end of my first draft a year ago (see my post The beginning of the end…). That’s where the rework started!

  7. Man I hate the editing process…especially the point when you have to start taking out words and picking it apart line by line. Good luck to you.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement! And yes, editing is the tough part. I think it’s probably the part where many would-be writers fall by the wayside too. As we discussed the editing process one day, my mentor said to me, ‘You’ll do well, because you’re willing to do the work’. I nurtured that little gem all year, as I plodded on with the work

  8. Congratulations on finishing your novel. Great post. And I agree, the easy part is writing the first draft, the challenge comes in murdering our darlings and getting the work down to the essentials.

    1. Ah yes… murdering those darlings. Very early in the process, at around 40,000 words, I ‘murdered’ one of my darlings… not just a favourite word or sentence, but a whole character. I wrote about it at the time in my post On committing a murder. Thanks for your support. 🙂

      1. I had to do the same thing with several characters in my current WIP. While it is difficult to remove the existence of a character, it is nice to pull off unnecessary weights. It took me two-thirds of my current WIP to realize the main character’s dog was nonessential and dragging down the story. It was difficult, but the dog had to go.

        1. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how we get attached to our fictional characters, even animals? They come to life and it pains us to put them down. I used to groan inwardly when authors gushed about how their characters developed minds and lives of their own. Now I understand.

    1. Aww… thank you! It’s hard, but ultimately rewarding. Just like so much in life – the good things don’t come easy.

    1. Keep going… keep going… that’s all you need to do. At one point I was managing just 500 words a week, with so many other commitments (like a job of work) intruding on what I wanted to do most. But even 500 words a week gets you there in the end.

    1. Thank you! My dream…. a list of books on Amazon, a few feet of shelf space in Waterstones… a ‘Richard and Judy’ sticker on the front cover!! With your blog title, I wonder if you might have spotted one or two of my more food-and-beverage oriented posts: In praise of Costa, Vive l’escargot.

  9. Haven’t written a book yet but these are great tips for general writing! As a young person I still have so much to learn… Thanks. 🙂

    1. I like that… “I haven’t written a book yet“… Your time to write a book will come, when you want it to. I started with stories in exercise books, articles in school magazines, and pen-pals all over the world (in the days before email!). I went on to work in marketing, being paid for writing brochures, fact sheets, case studies, white papers. But it was all writing, and it was all practise for #myfirstnovel – just as any writing you do in life will be practise for yours.

  10. Good luck with the launching of your novel. I liked the insight you gave about editing. It sure is a tedious task, but vital for perfection. 🙂

    1. Thank you 🙂 Editing is tedious, yes, but it’s also ultimately rewarding. When I look back at some of my earlier MSWord files, I see so much flab now, that I didn’t notice at the time. There’s as much satisfaction in learning the skills, as there is in delivering what you know to be a tighter piece of work.

  11. Oh editing. Haha. I’m yet to edit a novel, but even editing short pieces, sometimes I have to get rid of words I just LOVED when I was writing them, and it almost makes me weep to have to discard them (I console myself with the fact that I can always use them again somewhere else, now!)

    Congratulations on finishing your novel! And being Freshly Pressed 🙂 Good luck with the rewrites.

    1. Thank you! The worst thing is pressing delete on words and phrases you love – the ones that made you tingle with pleasure when you thought them up. But – so say the experts – they’re the most important ones to delete – those little darlings… I keep a running document of deleted sections that might be useful somewhere else, along with a growing pile of scribbly notepads.

    1. Thanks 🙂 Everyone is a beginner at some point. The ones that become established are just the beginners that kept on going. Stay on the road!

  12. I was about to submit my as yet unpublished novel to an agent and on their guidelines it said to go back to your draft and eliminate the word “that”. I had it three times in one sentence. Suffice it to say, it cut my word count down significantly. Thanks for the other tips! Best of luck.

    1. Thank you! I visualise it on the bookshop shelves…. coming out of an Amazon cardboard sleeve… in a pile on a desk, where I sit, pen in hand… The girl can dream.

    1. You’re welcome. And you’re right – line editing is all about getting out of your own way. That’s where the murdering of your darlings comes in 🙂 Good luck with your own editing.

  13. You’ve given some excellent suggestions, and done so in an entertaining way, which is not something everyone can do. I’ve been a textbook editor for nearly 30 years and have only recently ventured into editing prose, a different game altogether. I’ll keep your suggestions close. Best of luck with your novel!

    1. Thanks so much for your positive feedback and encouragement. Having been a commercial copywriter for many years, the world of fiction is a different game altogether. I can slash 50 words from a 250-word web page in seconds, so why is editing my draft so hard?

  14. Excellent description of the experience. Kudos to you for your perfectionist tendencies and devotion. It is truly a labor of love, isn’t it? Makes me feel like I need to go back to my stuff and edit it all over again. That which I thought I had brought to perfection seems (6 months later) like a mess. But it’s a learning process.

    1. Thanks for your feedback 🙂 I think the biggest problem with editing is, when to stop. Just when is perfection achieved? Is there another word left to modify or delete? There will always be… so perfection is an elusive concept.

  15. It is a wonderfully written article and I understand the pains of editing. When you are editing your work, it is almost like disciplining your child because you know it is good for him or her. This however does not make the process any easier, rather it makes it hard as all get out.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Gavion E. Chandler~

    ‘Man is his own devil.’

    1. Thanks for your feedback, and I agree. Editing is so different from the indulgence of creativity, when it’s all about more – more light and shade, more colour, more depth, more meat on those bones. It’s like going on a diet after Christmas – you don’t want to do it, but you know it’s good for you.

  16. Great post. I love adverbs…..and I feel so WRONG about using them when I write! Your post basically reminds me of the complete list of things to think about when writing. Good luck on your novel!

    1. Adverbs are a challenge; if language didn’t need them, they wouldn’t exist. But it’s much more satisfying to locate the perfect verb, than take the shortcut of an adverb. Honest, it is, really…! Thanks for connecting and good luck with your own writing 🙂

  17. Really enjoyed this. My two novels are tucked into a drawer, still awaiting the day I withdraw the red pen and begin editing. This gave me an insight as to what I might be looking for when I do begin to edit, and I like the way you describe your process 🙂 Thanks for sharing, and good luck with the novel.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement, and if you’ve got as far as having drafts in a drawer, you’ve already got further than most, so don’t give up. What will be interesting, is what you think of your drafts when you get them out, after having created some distance between you and them by consigning them to storage for a while! Good luck when get out your red pen.

      1. True. The first one was a NaNoWriMo product, to see if I could do it. The second was its slightly better, more sophisticated sister. The third is still being planned. I think that was my general idea: put them down, step away for a while (ie two years) and come back to it, a better writer than before. Thanks for the inspiration.

  18. This is such a great reminder. The worst is when I pick up a book and keep reading that favorite word of the day over and over again.
    I am guilty of the adjective overuse. I’ll pull some of them. It will be interesting to see how my manuscript looks after it’s been culled by a professional.

    1. Thanks! I wish that in addition to the Search & Replace feature, MSWord had a ‘find occurrences of the same word within a paragraph/page’ feature. That would have come in handy. No doubt a professional will find another 10% that also won’t be missed.

  19. It’s amazing how the word count plummets when we start tightening the story, trimming away all the excess. Your post offers excellent advice regarding the editing process. Congratulations on completing the first round of revisions!

    1. Thanks, Miranda. I would never have believed it myself, as I thought my writing was pretty tight. But then you put it away for a while, and when you come back you wonder, ‘what on earth was I thinking of…?’ And before long, 10% of your words are in the waste basket and none are missed. It’s been an education. It’s been emotional!

  20. Haha the thing about describing eye colour rang true for me. I was editing a short story I’d written and found myself thinking ‘oh my god Caroline, NOBODY CARES IF HER HAIR IS CURLY!’

    1. It’s true! Unless the curliness of her hair tells the reader something about her character or her personality, or is, as they say, ‘essential to the plot’, it doesn’t matter. Each reader will form their own picture of our characters, armed with just one or two salient details, and that will be enough. My main character hides behind a mask of perfect make-up and floaty, feminine outfits, but even with that in mind, I’ve still had to pare down the detail. There’s probably still too much of it 🙂

    1. Yes, you may, and I have (just) done it! Thanks for that one – I missed it. Note to self: One more global search and delete…..

      PS: I’ve (just) deleted over 100 unnecessary instances of the word ‘just’. Bryan I’m indebted to you.

  21. Thank you for the article, very informative and helpful article on editing. While reading it, I have reminded my late father. Once he said, when you put on paper your thoughts with 10 words, try to rewrite it using only 5 words – so you will wash jour sentence from all blah-blah-blah and make the convincing indeed story… Your report was the well-timed reminder. Thank you once again

    1. Thank you for sharing the memory of your late father, and so beautifully put,too. I continue to try to wash all the blah-blah from my sentences and your later father’s words make a great reminder.

  22. Gread job, i have recently discovered i love to write so i have been giving it a shot but have noticed that editing is another job of its own. Thanks for the insight and tips!

    1. Editing requires a completely different mindset, but it’s very much part of the task of writing. Thanks for the feedback and good luck with your own writing.

    1. Thanks! Response has been amazing, so many active contributors, following my slot on Freshly Pressed. Thanks for the reblog, much appreciated.

  23. Just did an incredibly loose line-edit of just the first chapter of my new novel and I promptly wanted to find a wooden spoon to gag myself with. I am not looking forward to doing the whole manuscript but I absolutely loved your breakdown of what you looked for and tried to eliminate in your editing! Thanks for the resources! I definitely took notes haha.

    1. Glad you found my hard-learned lessons of use. Editing is easier to do from a distance, having put away the beloved first draft for a while, whilst the passions calm and the blood settles. For editing is a task best tackled cold – that’s when it’s easier to spot the wasted words, purple phrases, repetitions and more. Don’t lose heart. Apparently every writer gets that wooden spoon/gag feeling in some form or another. I know I did.

  24. I published my first book this March. I paid an editor to edit without prejudice. It was a waste of time. If you want to get something down right, you yourself must do it right. I performed surgery on my text and removed many malign phrases and several benign, but useless appendages. Good luck with you book!

    1. So true, so often. When you want a job done well, do it yourself. Whatever sort of writer you are, whatever the book, learning how to edit, to refine and refine your draft, is an essential skill. No doubt – if (when…) my novel gets into a publisher’s hands – a professional editor will have more work to do, but I’m satisfied that I’ve done a conscientious job from a writer’s perspective, and learned worthwhile lessons in the process. I’m sure you are too. Best of luck with your work.

  25. Love, love, love. I am currently doing some amateur editing for a friend and this provides me with a bit of insight. I imagine that some of my longer log posts will benefit from a similar edit. I’ll pick one to edit next week and let you know how it goes using some of the tips you’ve outlined! Thank you.

  26. Many congratulations on getting this far. As a fellow writer at a similar stage (110,000 words down to 89,000 after pass no.5 – please don’t get scared by that) I know exactly what you are going through. I don’t know about you but I find this stage strangely pleasurable in a masochistic kind of way. On the one hand you are culling text you have spent so long creating, yet on the other you know it’s for the good of the book. Next stop, reading through backwards!

    1. Hi Dylan, and thanks for your encouragement. I began editing before my first draft was complete, as I engaged with a mentor. It was a confusing process at first, writing the latter third of the book whilst reshaping the early chapters. It’s only lately that I arrived at the line edit, so I fully understand where ‘pass number 5’ comes from! Even though I say my draft is ‘finished’, I’m still tweaking, modifying things, spotting spare words I missed, revising clunky sentences that didn’t look so clunky last time I re-read them. I don’t expect this will stop until somebody pushes a contract in front of me and puts a pen in my hand. Oh, but then it starts all over, doesn’t it, with the professional editing process? I embrace it all, as integral to the creative experience – and I’m serious about that. But reading through backwards? That’s a new one on me!

      1. Reading through backwards is to catch typos, duplicate words, alternate spellings (there, their, they’re) and so in that your brain automatically ignores no matter how many times you’ve gone through the text. It’s usually the last pass before publishing and it’s something I’m dreading.

  27. Good job! Keep up the hard work, you’ll get somewhere with that attitude. I’m currently working on my first novel and it is a lot harder than people think. I was wondering, when you were writing did you pay much attention to your word count? I have this annoying habit of constantly checking my word count.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, and you must keep going yourself. All those people who say ‘I’d like to write a book one day…’ don’t realise how hard it can be when you actually make a start. I didn’t worry too much about word count, although on MSWord, it’s there all the time in the corner. I figured that with the amount of reading I do, I had a reasonable innate grasp of the substance of a novel-length story. I always intended to end up somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 words – they say that too much more than that, and publishers won’t be so willing to take a risk with an untested/new writer. I went all the way to 107,000 words, with my mentor encouraging me to add, and add again – fleshing out scenes, staying longer ‘in the moment’ and so on. Once you get into the mindset of looking dispassionately at the words and sentences, rather than at the whole story, those surplus words start to jump out of the page at you. But there’s a level of editing before you get to worrying about the word count – and that’s all about ironing out plot inconsistencies, building character, getting the pacing right. At that point, ‘editing’ is still about putting words in!

      1. Thank you very much for your reply. I’m at about 15,000 words right now and I still have quite a bit to write. Sometimes I think I focus too much on the word count. That’s not good, I just have to write for now and put my ideas down. The editing will do the fine tuning later. Thanks again 🙂

        1. The only reason to focus on word count at this stage is if you want to make progress by setting yourself a goal of a certain number of words per day or week. Otherwise just consider every 1,000 words another milestone. Good luck, Thorsten, and I look forward to hearing more of your journey. The more us novice writers can encourage one another, the better.

    2. I, too, tend to check my word count often (it’s easy, as Jools said, with Word when it’s right there in the bottom corner), but in the end it really doesn’t matter. Any story, whether 1,000 words, or 100,000 words, is only going to ever use the amount of words it absolutely needs. I like to just let things flow, and when the characters have nothing left to say, then I hone it into what it needs to be. So long as the characters and the story are driving the writing, the word count doesn’t matter. Basically, I never try to hit a certain number of words, or cut it down to a certain number of words, simply to have it in a range that might be more suitable to the reading public or a publisher or what have you. Doing such a thing does a disservice to the story your trying to tell. I’m all for cutting and shaping to make a story better, but it has to be for the better of the story, not because I’m worried about an arbitrary word count. Like Jools, I have stories that when originally conceived, I thought I’d be at a certain number of words at the end, but by the time the characters finished saying what they needed to say, it was much longer, and at other times, I thought a story would be longer than what it actually ended at, because that was all I needed to tell their story. So, that’s my two cents, if it’s worth anything.

      Good luck on your book. Hope it turns out the way you envisioned it!

      1. Bryan, I agree. A story will be as long as it needs to be. Thorsten, just keep writing until you get to the end. I hate to say it, but word count will be the least of your challenges!

      2. Thanks a lot! Yes, I can relate to that. Word count is really not that important. It’s the same in film: just because one movie is three-hours long and the other one and a half, doesn’t mean that the three-hour movie is a lot better. It’s about the content and how it is told.

  28. Love this post. I found myself grinning when you mentioned the “favoured word of the day” thing. I can still remember reading “The secret diary of Adrian Mole” when I was young, and him commenting on his own over-use of the word actually in a previous paragraph. It’s funny how things like that become lodged in your head…

  29. I love your advice, and I am also fond of ‘search and delete’. As a beginning copy editor, new blogger, and a creative writing student, your tips should be very useful in the future.

    1. Thanks for your feedback, and congratulations on your various writerly identities. Don’t forget, the fun part is getting all those words down, on paper or screen, before you get to the part where you begin scratching the redundant ones out.

    1. Thank you! I confess, it feels great, simply to have got to a finished state. I first wrote the final chapter just over a year ago and even though I realised it was only ‘the end of the beginning’, I hadn’t fully grasped what was involved in getting it from there, to here. Now I’m ‘here’, I know what I’ll be letting myself in for, next time!

  30. It’s like wielding a machete sometimes! I did three edits of my first novel and when I was done with the adverbs, modifiers, saids, I was confronted with italics. I found I had unwittingly developed a dependency on those little slanted words. Good luck with your novel!

    1. I’m a fellow italics addict. The hard truth is that, for the most part (and excluding certain accepted rules on use of italics), our job is to write in such a way that italics aren’t necessary, that the emphasis is easy for the reader to understand. More than this, we need to trust that our readers are a smart bunch and don’t need the extra help. How about that… and not a single word in italics! (Next stop… deal with those pesky exclamation marks…)

  31. First let me tell you congrats on what you have done to date. Good for you. I am sure your book will be just fine and you will be happy with the results and responses fro those who read it. I am a mere blogger and writer of poems from time to time. I write mostly for me with very few people looking at my work. I care but I don’t because I just want to put my thoughts and ideas and humor to pen. You seem very interested in having a book in your name. It is indeed great to be published and recognized as a writer. I have had many things published over many decades. So perhaps now it’s mostly for me. But you, well maybe this is your time. I hope for you it is. Never stop writing. Enjoy your own work and always be willing to share. It may very well mean a great deal to someone some day. Good luck. Bill Pokins

    1. What a lovely comment, Bill, thank you. I’ve written for years and have many articles and other material ‘out there’ in one way or another (though not – yet – a book). I confess, it’s mostly marketing collateral (except for one short story which won a magazine prize) and rarely under my own name. But I take heart from the fact that I’ve been paid to write for two decades and more. I’m also a prolific social emailer (having fingers that work at 100 words a minute helps a lot) and, of course, a blogging beginner. My goal when I started to write my novel, was simply to find out if I could create a novel-length story that people wanted to read. I believe now that I can, and, yes, I’m keen to see it become a book. That’s the next logical step. I visualise it on the shelves at Waterstone’s, being pressed into an Amazon cardboard sleeve, perhaps even decorated with a Richard & Judy or a bestseller sticker (that would be nice). But writing is a curious thing – people write for the pure pleasure of expression, and I guess that’s why the blogosphere has so many enthusiastic contributors who write whether their words are read by thousands, or by an interested half-dozen. I look forward to enjoying your words too.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I found the best way to make progress at the beginning is to focus on the next few hundred words, then the next, then the next, one step at a time. Don’t look too far into the distance. The taking-words-out process doesn’t begin until you’ve done a massive amount of putting-words-in.

  32. Well done you. A top quality edit is vital – you’d be surprised by how many people there are who don’t fully appreciate or understand this part of the process. As a publisher, we look for submitted manuscripts which have undergone this. Keep up the great work!

    1. Thank you. I was once told I’d do well if I was prepared to ‘do the work’ when it came to revisions and editing. I don’t take this lightly. There are so many layers to the editing process it’s tempting to rush through, but I’ve seen the value in doing a thorough job. I’m intending one final pass through now I’ve had a few readers have a go at it. I’ll write the synopsis, then Singled Out will go in search of a publisher. I appreciate your encouragement, Lara.

      1. Good on you for doing that Jools, I am sure it will stand you in excellent stead going forward. Listen, I can’t promise anything but if you would like to send it to me for appraisal when the time comes, I would be more than happy to take a look at it for you, on a confidential basis of course. Submission guidelines are on our website: Any questions, just shout.

        1. Lara, thank you. Your offer is much appreciated and I will certainly take you up on it. I had in fact already had a look at your submission guidelines. You’ll hear from me, probably in around 3-4 weeks. 🙂

  33. I’m a fledgling playwright, and it’s so interesting to read about others’ takes on the editing process. I have to admit that sometimes it is a painstakingly tedious process, but I’ve learned that it’s an essential part to being a good writer. Thanks for the insight, and I hope you get good feedback from your test reads!

    1. Thanks for your comment and good luck with your endeavours. Painstaking, tedious, technical… and, yes, essential. Feedback on ‘Singled Out’ has been good so far, but with some helpful observations too – and a consistency about those which makes them important to address.

  34. Discovered this post through WordPress Reader (my new BFF). I’m not a novelist or editor. Just a new-ish blogger, with a so-called “niche blog” and few followers. After reading your words, I went back to writing my next blog post. Lo and behold, one paragraph into writing, and I inadvertently started to edit, with your words echoing in my mind. Bravo, and thank you!

    1. I agree re WordPress Reader. Having struggled with waves of posts delivered on email via RSS, I’ve only recently realised myself how brilliant it is – and I’m discovering so many more fascinating blogs as a result. I’m so glad my observations are helping you with your blog posts! In my sparest of spare time, I’m a papercrafter/stamper and there are some lovely niche blogs out there for those of us who mess about with scissors and inks.

  35. The editing part is horrible! I have been putting it off for so long now I am afraid to go back and see how much work it needs. And you sent your book out to test readers…. you are a brave soul indeed.

    1. You’ll probably find you have benefited from letting your manuscript lie for a while. Those unnecessary words, repetitions and over-complicated sentences will jump out at you now. More importantly, any holes in the narrative, plotting or characters will be easier to see. Don’t be afraid! My readers were gentle with me and generally very positive, but I also came away with some valuable feedback – luckily not too drastic. I may yet ask a couple more hapless victims to read for me once I’ve implemented some final changes. But having spent months (years!) writing ‘Singled Out’, I want it to find an audience, so I need to know how it reads. I know most of it by heart now, so I’m no help to myself!

  36. Wow, looks like you’ve been inundated with comments, Wonder if you’ll see this? Love your article on editing. I’m at the same stage you are, I have my great american novel finished, but it’s a bit too long – rather wordy. Luckily I can see this and take measures to fix it. I appreciated this particular article and the good tips for proof reading. My particular stumbling block is “that”, he called to say ‘that’ he’d be late. I’ll keep reading you.

    1. Hi Geanie! Yes, it’s been a busy few days on the blog, thanks to this post making it on to Freshly Pressed. But I’m keeping a close eye on comments as it’s a real pleasure to connect. It seems many writers battle with the editing process, as you and I are doing. I agree re ‘that’… I’ve knocked dozens of ‘that’s on the head, but many more still remain. ‘That’ doesn’t find itself dismissed as readily as some of the other words on my cull-list. Thanks for following me 🙂

  37. Writing is hard. Revising and editing are harder. But hardest of all is teaching teachers how to teach writing. I do it from a writer’s perspective. Teachers teach from teachers’ perspectives. The two are almost polar opposite. Try teaching how to write short in a long-centric pedagogic culture. My favored application for elementary and middle school application is “Word Limiters” (Interactions, Houghton Mifflin, 2001). Teachers want students to write descriptions of just about everything, so I do a read-aloud of, for example, Carl Sandburg’s “Sodbuster in Kansas” and direct eleven-year olds to describe what they noticed in the piece, in no fewer than six and no more than ten words. I have never conducted that activity without someone in the room asking if I could read the piece again. Suddenly, someone realized that the writing would require that he or she pay attention to the read. The same happens in a tenth grade with Somerset Maugham’s “Appointment in Sumarra.” An alternative is to direct students to write a summary of, for example, the Declaration of Independence; then they count the words they wrote and delete 10%, then 10% more, and 10% more. On the third deletion, they find they have to reconstruct sentences.

    1. You’re doing important work. Yet I would have thought that one of the biggest challenges was teaching pupils brought up in the age of the text message and sound bites, to write ‘long’ not the other way around. Shows what (little) I know, I guess! I recall in school an exercise which I believe has fallen from popularity – that of précis. We were required to précis maybe 200 words down to 100 without losing the meaning or sense of the piece. This involved reshaping sentences, searching for alternative phrases… All good skills which I use to this day, not just in editing my novel. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on writing short.

      1. The Word Limiter has the same cognitive value as does the précis. At bottom, writing the précis demands knowing the subject and crafting its essence with the right words for the right reasons. If we want rigor, that is where it rests — not in high-stakes test of trivia.

  38. What a smooth post on a painstaking process!

    When I was an aspiring writer in high school, I used to say “I love Shakespeare for what he added to the language and Hemingway for what he took away.” It sounded very profound to me, and I certainly meant it. That taking away is hard, but making tiny cuts really does wonders for writing. I’ve ground through my own work and students’ writing many time making these small cuts. I’m eternally grateful to the advisor in my master’s program for impressing on me the importance of getting every word right in academic prose as well as in my “personal” writing.

    1. I agree. Especially when it comes to editing, precision is all. That’s where my battered old thesaurus comes in – delivering up precisely the right single word, where I could only come up with a cluster of words approximating what I sought to say. Thanks for sharing.

  39. Congrats on writing your first novel! I’m an editor, and a coworker and I had a discussion very similar about a piece he wrote once. As much as he loved the article, he had to cut the word count in half. We called it word-murdering.

    1. Word murdering – I like that! I murdered a character a while back – he no longer had a job to do in my story. I guess one can see individual words in the same way. Does that make us all ‘mass murderers’ I wonder?

  40. I love it when bloggers become novelists! You an inspiration to myself and others, and I will definitely be cheering you on! Just get through this part and you will be one step closer. I will be excited to read it when your story hits the shelves!

    1. I’d love it if this blogger became a novelist too! At the moment, I’m a would-be novelist – proudly clutching my final draft and about to start waving frantically at every passing agent and publisher. But it’s exciting, getting closer to the possibilities of publishing. Up until now it’s all been about finishing the draft – this the next phase of the adventure. Thanks for your kind words too. The encouragement I’m getting from bloggers right across the world is amazing.

    1. Oh, that’s very kind, thank you! However, my test readers are just a few people, probably no more than 5 or 6 in total from a circle of friends and associates whom I’ve been boring rigid with talk of my slow progress over many, many months. I didn’t know if the role of test reader would qualify as a reward for their forbearance, or a further burden on their tolerance, but so far it would seem to be more of the first, and less of the second.

  41. I agree, editing is the hardest part. I do it professionally and I can tell you, it gets easier as you do more of it! As it says in the bible (Elements of Style, of course), a sentence needs no extra words like a building needs no extra bricks (paraphrased). I remind all my writers of that and it helps! Good luck with it…and if you ever need a professional editor, you know where to find me 😉

    1. The beauty of working at… anything; it gets easier, the more you do. I expect to do more editing on ‘Singled Out’ before it’s finally, properly ready. But the thing I look forward to most is being asked (by a publisher) to write another book (positive thinking again… see?) and to be able to look forward to engaging in the whole enthralling/frustrating process all over again, but armed with everything I learned the last time! Many thanks for flagging your services, both to me and other blog followers.

  42. Thank you for sharing this post. I, too, am in the process of editing. (I’ve put it off long enough, in favor of completing more rough drafts.) It’s nice to know there are others in the same camp. I appreciate the advice and the humor, with which it was related. Keep your chin up!

    1. Thanks for the feedback and I wish you every success with your editing. It’s the hard-graft end of the writing process but once you see how much better your early drafts become, I’m sure you will embrace the experience just as I have. Good luck!

  43. One word at a time, one “step” at a time….congrats on completing the novel and being freshly pressed! Following you now. 🙂 P.S. Thought you might enjoy my latest post regarding my “date” with sportswriter/author Mitch Albom –> 🙂 😉 Have a great week!

    1. Thanks for your feedback and I’m happy to post the link to your blog on your ‘date’ with Mitch Albom as I love his books too.

  44. Thanks so much! I read this over and over, and then revisited the really helpful parts, because I might be guilty of…well, maybe being a tad verbose laden by a desire to be really descriptive because that might captivate the reader and isn’t that what I am supposed to do as writer, if, in fact, I am a writer?

    1. You write… therefore, you are a writer! One thing I’m trying to get to grips with is achieving that balance between writing in a way one is supposed to do, and writing from the heart, in your own natural style. It is a balance, because there are many techniques which help to bring writing alive and make it more immediate, and it’s worth learning how to use these because they will elevate your own writing. One thing I’ve learned about being descriptive is that you don’t need to describe everything. The goal is to be evocative – to highlight aspects of the scene using all the senses – but to leave the reader and their own imagination to fill in the gaps. Description does captivate some readers, but it frustrates others. Sometimes it can enrich, but at other times it can bring the storytelling to a stuttering halt. Part of being a writer is figuring out when, where and how much – what to leave in, what to take out. The advice I received was to write it all in (see my post on ‘More is More’, but then be prepared to pare it down later.

    1. Thank you 🙂 It might not be the fun part, but once you begin to get the hang of it, you see so much to revise and remove. I never expected to reduce by close to 10%, whilst also adding to a couple of sections – it was a revealing exercise.

  45. Best of luck! What an accomplishment. My writing teacher, Leonard Bishop, used to say to read a page, pick out the one sentence that was indispensable. Get rid of the rest, and expand that sentence to a page, WheW I didn’t understand what he meant for many years. I can do that with a long paragraph, but maybe in another 20 years I can do that with a sentence.

  46. An insightful post which captures the universal pain we writers feel when we take a scalpel to our work.I’m working on the third book in a trilogy, and while the editing on the first two was not so terrible (I have a highly competent editor) I am absolutely dreading this next round. Best of luck with your project!

    1. I do seem to have touched a nerve with this post, and it was delightful to get so much exposure via Freshly Pressed too. Good luck with your own project. I very much look forward to the opportunity to work with an editor. I think I might feel I’m on my way to being an author by then. 🙂

      1. Many years ago, having had a piece accepted in a literary journal (the subsequently defunct “Writers West.” Without the extraordinary youthful creative mindstorm of George Plimpton and his merry band of partners in The Paris Review start, literary journals tend to become defunct.) the editor asked if I would mind having breakfast with his friend and listen to her suggestions for my piece. I thought there was nothing to lose. The piece was already accepted for publication. So one weekday morning I walked into a chain coffee shop and headed for the table where sat the editor. His friend was, and remains, friendly and open, smiling, and eager. She had read my piece. She sidled up to me after my coffee arrived and started saying, and asking, things like, “What would happen if you put this paragraph down here?” Read this sentence the way you wrote it and then read it so this part and this part are reversed.” “Listen to this part and try it up here.” “Read these two sentences; did you write them both on purpose? Do you need both of them?” For forty-five minutes she had me moving this and scratching that and considering what it would sound like if… I had many English teachers beforeI met her, but I never had a writing teacher, a real one, one whose information source is writers rather than other teachers and professors. I learned more about writing in 45 minutes that morning than I had accumulated in all of my schooling (not to be confused with education).

        Betty Abell Jurus is a writer. She is probably best known to others as the coauthor of “Men in Green Faces ( (St.Martins). She is known to me as the first editor I ever knew and a terrific writer. Due to my association with Betty, I have come to know another editor, Jeanne Jenkins. I wouldn’t send a sentence I wrote without asking Jeanne to read it. There is nothing like a good editor. I have never read a writer who didn’t need one, and I have read every Paris Review interview since the early 1950s.

        Leif Fearn

        1. What an inspiring account, and a lesson for all writers. Thank you for taking the time to share it. There are so many layers to the editing process. No matter how diligently you approach these as the writer, there will always be a need for the dispassionate – expert – third party. I honestly look forward to seeing how an editor who knows their craft, will improve my story.

  47. It took me six long years to write my book. I must have read and edited each sentence over ten times. When I finally reached the point where I felt that I couldn’t edit anymore on my own, I submitted my book to be professionally edited. With this accomplished, I was ready to publish. No one had read my book besides my editor. When it was released on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, I felt proud of it like a parent but also afraid that no one was going to buy it. A month later with a few sales, I’m still waiting to exhale.

    1. You’ve certainly ‘done the work’ as far as editing is concerned. I feel the next step might be to ‘do the work’ from a marketing perspective. Yes, you’re right… the work never ends! As far as I can see, writing the book is just the start. The big business is marketing and promoting, raising awareness and attracting buyers who need to identify you and your book from the legions of new works out there. Good luck with your publication – I hope you see your sales build.

      1. Me too. Selling is important. However, the joy is in the writing. Writers write. Some sell. A precious sell a lot. There is a bimodal curve in writing. A few of us fill our garages with our self-published work. A few of us sell a lot.. Most of us sell on a range from a little to a living. If we did it to make a loving, we’d never start, at least not if we talked to other writers before the first word. We start in any case because we can’t not start, and once started, we want to share. Income is good, but that isn’r what we do. What we do is write. The rest is secondary.

        Leif Fearn

        1. We start writing because we want to write and, I agree, because we can’t not write. But if we want to stand even a small chance of moving beyond that garage full of self-published books and on to the shelves of Waterstones or Barnes & Noble, we have to have our eye on marketability. We need to write what sells, and if we’re not disposed to doing that, we need to appreciate that sales will be hard-won. It’s my goal to earn at least a portion of my income from writing and promoting my fiction – the larger that portion, the happier I will be. Meantime, I’m earning from writing brochures, case studies, web sites and client blogs. It’s writing, and I’m being paid for it, so I can hardly protest. But to earn from fiction, I need to write the sort that people will rush to buy. I hope I’ve done that, and time will reveal, once I get that darned synopsis finished…

    1. Oh, I know! A lot more work went into it after that. I finished my own first draft well over a year ago and I would say, you’re not even half done at that point, maybe 25% done. Even now, after several layers of editing, and now that I’ve started submitting to agents, I’m still tweaking! Thanks for the reblog, by the way.

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