Editing as whittling

PCC collage

We are getting rain. The painters stayed home today, but yesterday as I sat upstairs in my writing chair, a man worked on a ladder directly out the window. He chatted on his phone, Spanish providing him privacy since I don’t know a word. But how I worried about him, scaling the ladder with one hand, or gripping the phone with his neck and shoulder while balancing two stories up!

In today’s blessed quiet, I’ve been editing, determined to get my word count below 140,000. Deb would scoff and maybe my paid editor would too. But a lower word count would be more appealing to the average agent. Or so I’ve heard.

Couple years back — before Covid so it feels like another lifetime — Deb visited and invited me as a guest to a writer’s conference where she was the keynote speaker. Talk at the table turned to word count.

“For a debut author, anything over 90,000 is a no-no,” one writer said. Others agreed. (Deb’s speech was amazing BTW — part humor, part wise advice).

Well, I’m not gonna even get down to 120,000, but you have to admit that our minds respond differently to 141,800 than to 139,800.

And I did it! Gonna keep going because I have a new appreciation for where I can carve. Mostly I’ll go to the Eliza chapters because she thinks too much and can be flowery in her speech. Snip. Snip.

12 thoughts on “Editing as whittling

  1. deb

    It does seem like another lifetime. Y’all must have been talking about my 290k monster while I was up there walking the burning plank. I can’t imagine doing what you’re doing, but I must have at some point because I have another books worth of “parked” scenes that just didn’t have enough purpose. I hope you are keeping a copy of the “long form” somewhere. Never kill your darlings, just put them on ice. Think of all that bonus material you have ready.

  2. Anonymous

    Less can be more… this I’m learning through video editing. And it is so very difficult to snip stuff that is good or that you love because “______”,
    It is a sad day when we can no longer spend time appreciating the art of great writing – ok we can, but that’s not what grabs people’s attention. I’m guessing, I got no data. consumers are not thinkers. I don’t believe that, but also I’m not running a publishing company.
    You are very strong to endure.

    1. deemallon Post author

      Strong or stubborn, I can’t tell. There’s all kinds of fiction but if you’re advised to write a book you’d want to read, well then the story should move along. For me, it certainly can be longer than 250 pages.

  3. Liz A

    I’ve been editing cloth lately … what was I thinking when I put that color there? … rrrrrip … why did I leave that edge raw? … tuck and stitch, tuck and stitch … what next? … painfully long pause …

    I don’t envy you cutting a piece of that size … my mind boggles at the thought of what it must take to keep track of all the threads

    1. deemallon Post author

      With quilting, I used to adapt, adapt, adapt. Now I’m more willing to unpick. Though as you note, being willing to revise doesn’t necessarily provide direction.

  4. RainSluice

    Yeah, I mean, ffs you should be allowed to write the book you’d want to read – yet, isn’t that the one(s) you’ve *already* written? It truly sucks to have to even consider such parameters. Such boxed-in requirements are akin to uhhh oh jeez, is there a good analogy for this? passing the bar? no! Acing the LSAT? no. Working for The Man? no no no.
    I’m no help – as you know I revolt against ALL Boxes, over and over and over again… and that’s a kind of stubbornness that gets me nowhere 🙂 HOWEVER, I did get a framed painting into a juried exhibit and recently got an UNframed painting into another juried exhibit. So, just don’t ever give up. You GO, Dee! xxoo

  5. Joanne in Maine

    I have noticed- by reading the full catalog of favorite authors- that they have cut back, shortened etc as they wrote more books. I am reading the early books of Christina Lauren and…….the improvement and the editing going on NOW is very apparent. there are sections of these early books that could certainly be removed and NO ONE would miss them but the writer.


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