Let us say that you have got your lyric essay pretty much completed the way you want it to be. It is free of typographical errors — you are pretty sure — and the slant of your topic is both interesting (you hope), and the sentences read clearly. You have even spent extra time double-checking the flow of the overall cadence, and put in efforts to make your word choices the very best they could be. Are you all set?
No, darn it, the editor you are targeting to pick up this particular essay has a word-count maximum, and your article runs over that limit. Now what do you do?
I’m going to help you get started shaving off some extraneous words by giving you a list of a few self-editing guidelines. Below are the first 3 things to look at in your manuscript when you know you still need to make some cuts, even after the article (or book, for that matter!) seems finished.
Substitute 1 or 2 synonymous words where they will do just as well in place of longer phrases, including making liberal use of contractions, and eliminating qualifiers or redundancies.
Reduce casual, somewhat-idle language to simplify (and usually shorten) sentences. We’ll use square brackets to show deletions = [ ].
Cut unneeded articles of speech, e.g., the, a, an, that, this, where possible.
Skeptical? Let’s give it a try. The first 2 paragraphs of this post were written in a quasi-formal style in order to give us a sample to work on together. Nothing’s really WRONG with the paragraphs, but the writing is loose and purposely filled with word choices that can be changed without harm to conceptual content (let’s not go into the argument about have/have got/got, either, thank you).
The original count is 107 words (hyphenated compounds count as 1 word here). In fact, I think a great deal of it can be chopped out successfully, and because we’re over the word-limit (let’s pretend), we have no choice but to have at it. This is how you must think about the writing now — it’s a product that needs to fit an allotted space. We can make that happen, and it will still be good. Actually, it will be better. It will make your editor happy.
Following are the same 2 beginning paragraphs. I’ve marked all the changes made below in the same 3 colors matching the advice in the list above, so you can see what drove the editing decisions. Compare with the opening paragraphs if you need to.
Let’s [us] say that you’ve [have] got your lyric essay [pretty much] completed the way you want it [to be]. It’s [is] free of typographical errors [— you are pretty sure —] and the slant of your topic is both interesting [(you hope)], and [the sentences read clearly] well-defined. You’ve [have] even spent [extra] time double-checking [the] flow of [the overall] cadence, and suitability of [put in] [efforts to make your] [word choices] diction [the very best they could be]. [Are you] All set?
No, darn it, the editor you’re [are] targeting [to pick up this particular essay] has a word-count maximum, and your article [runs over] exceeds that limit. Now what [do you do]?
There. Phew! Could we take out more? Yes. If we needed to cut more, we could remove “the way you want it” from the first sentence of paragraph 1, for example. But let’s just look at the new word-count now. Wow, down to 63 words from 107! That’s just a little bigger than half the original total. Imagine going through your entire 5,400-word essay and whittling it down like this? It’s a lot easier to market a 3,000-word article than one twice that length.
Let’s see how our paragraphs read now, as a single paragraph:
Let’s say that you’ve got your lyric essay completed the way you want it. It’s free of typographical errors, and the slant of your topic is both interesting, and well-defined. You’ve even spent time double-checking flow of cadence, and suitability of diction. All set? No, darn it, the editor you’re targeting has a word-count maximum, and your article exceeds that limit. Now what?
Now what? Go try these self-editing tips on your own writing. Even if you don’t have a word-count you’re trying to cut back to, you’ll probably be surprised to discover there are places in your articles, your book, too, where you’re still using more redundant words than you thought.