Friday, November 7, 2014

Tighten, Tighten, Tighten!

I spent last week editing down a submission for Chicken Soup for the Soul. This lead came from a recommendation on the Funds for Writers website. Apparently a lot of people have their first freelance writing sales with this series.

The topic for the prospective book I was aiming for: Hope and Miracles.

I thought I had my story in pretty good shape from an earlier essay submission that didn’t pan out. No rejection via standardized email, just nothing. Not unexpected from a national magazine that would have had thousands of entries.

The website for Chicken Soup for the Soul had guidelines for its submissions: what they should be—what they should not be. The final note: Tighten, Tighten, Tighten!

I began rereading my piece smugly thinking, “This won’t need much tightening. I’ve been over it lots times already.”

My writing style usually involves a rough draft with a great many rounds of rereading, rewriting, taking a break, and then doing it all over again—more times than I care to keep track of.

When I began reviewing my essay, I was initially dismayed with the mistakes I found. So much for my proof reading ability. (I definitely need to develop a better eye—or hire someone.) I kept at it. Every time I would think “This is it. I can’t go any further,” I’d take a break and come back to find more spots where I could make cuts and not hurt anything, even make it clearer, stronger.

The editing took my word count from 1125 to 979 over two days. It became a personal contest with each reread: What can I take out? How much fat could there be? Do I really need that?

Stephen King’s book On Writing strongly encourages taking out 20 percent. My trimming took out 146 words for 13 percent.

First to go, those pesky and unneeded adjectives and adverbs: big, quickly, etc. Next, those dangling independent and dependant clauses I have a habit of inserting—not needed. The real prizes—whole sentences. Windfalls to stringent editing.

Tighten, Tighten, Tighten! Probably a good motto for all short stories and flash fiction. However, I’m not going to go overboard for my novel. I need to keep those extra juicy little tidbits of color and drama to make things interesting—at least for now.

I mention this journey because this philosophy of economy, this appeal for brevity runs totally opposite to what’s needed for National Novel Writing Month. The first rule for NaNoWriMo is: turn off your internal editor and write, write, write!
I’m glad I got the editing out of the way last week. Now is the time to write with abandon.

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