Open-Heart Surgery with a Chainsaw: Deep Edits

This was the title of a panel I participated in at Balticon and, let me tell you, truer words were never spoken. Cutting deep into your manuscript is like cutting into your own flesh. Most editing is like scratches or paper cuts, but deep edits—thousands of words—are much, much more painful.

I’ve had to do truly deep edits twice now. The first time was for Scimitar Moon. The original manuscript weighed in at 165,000 words. I, of course, thought it was fine that way.  However, its acceptance by Dragon Moon Press came with a caveat—lose 45,000 words. Ouch! I actually had to kill off a couple of secondary characters, though I did grant them glorious deaths. I eliminated a side plot that at the time seemed important, but considering that I now can’t remember what it was, it apparently wasn’t vital. Finally, I went through each and every line, deleting extraneous words, consolidating sentences, and generally tightening up the text. Whew!

Was it worth it? Well, I got my first non-self-published book out of it, and that book won the gold medal in the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Awards, so yeah, it was worth it.

My second instance of heart-rendlingly deep edits just occurred during the past month. One of my editors delivered the word from above (above = the publisher): novels from now on were to be no more than 100,000 words. Sooo, that meant cutting 24,000 words out of my latest manuscript. Oh, the pain! I actually went through this process in the opposite manner as above, first removing nearly 15,000 words via line by line editing, then targeting one section for shortening, and another for potential elimination. We’ll see how it pans out when I get the manuscript back from the editor. At least now I know to target 100,000 words for the next book, though my sweet spot is about 120,000.

Although these instances were massive edits, they were not re-writes (major changes in plot, characters, etc.). I’ll go into re-writes in another blog.

So, now it’s your turn. Anyone have a tale of deep, painful edits? What’s your process for eliminating well-loved but extraneous words?

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