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April 8, 2010 / theoldsilly

Professor Old Silly’s Tutorial Tuesday on a Thursday – Self Editing, Part Two

Update on the magical muse thing. Today is Thursday, and my WIP is now (well as of this note on Wednesday evening) at some 35,000 words. I’m shooting for 80,000 for first draft, although that is in no way some fixed or limiting number, could be more or less. I want a book at least 70,000 words long though, and I  know the first draft will be reduced by at least 10% in the self-edits, when I “cut the fat” – which is part two of this particular class lesson. So, 35K, and that is up from around 15K words written by beddie-bye time last Sunday night. And averaging the 6-7K words per day while in this blessed writer’s zone, I can see the ms first draft easily completed by the end of this month. Love it when this sort of thing happens, even though loved ones close to me consider me a bit remote and even cantankerous when interrupted. (wink)

So anyway, will keep y’all posted on that. Those of you who follow the Old Silly regularly know I’m republishing some archived older posts so I can spend more time writing in my ms than composing new stuff for Free Spirit. Tuesday’s writing tutorial was so well received I thought today I’d put back up Part Two to the four part series. Enjoy, and … please stay for the whole class?

Chow gang, I’ll visit those of you who blog around mid-day today, but right now my characters are screaming at me to get back to writing!


Welcome back to Bloggyversity, English Comp Class 10001.3b, “Writing With Power in Fiction.” Again, we have much to cover in very little time – studies show that most blog-hoppers have an attention span of about five minutes per post, max, so I would ask you to turn off your ipods, cell phones, black and/or raspberries, stop with the twittering, adjust your monitors and undies, and pay close attention. None of your usual nonsense, class, I’ll not have it.

Okay. Picking up where we left off last week, today’s lesson is in two short parts, and will conclude this short series on the all important skill for authors to have, that being self-editing. I’d like to begin this session with …

Reffie! I saw that – throw one more spitball and I’ll have you sent to the Principal’s office!

Ahem – where was I? Oh yes …

Today’s Lesson, Part One:

1. Get rid of weak, qualifying words and phrases.

You’ve already searched and destroyed those dreaded words ending in “ly,” but other words can weaken your prose. They don’t appear as adverbs or adjectives, but they function the same. Seek out and eliminate these words:

Almost, less, seldom, even, always, maybe, soon, more, perhaps, then, very, many, far, never, today, well, sometimes, just, perhaps

Next, search for and rewrite or eliminate worn-out “turning phrases” like these:

Of course, nevertheless, for example, in fact, however, seemingly, in spite of, besides which

These short lists contain the most overused and abused. Others exist, but this is a good start.

2. Eliminate all clichés.

Clichés are boring, plagiarized bits of wisdom expressed in a set formula. You are a writer. Show us your creativity, amaze us! When you write your first draft and a cliché seems to fit and no better phrase comes to mind, go ahead and key it in. But when you go back to self-edit, use clichés as opportunities to shine. Rewrite with originality and in keeping with your style and your story. Where you might have written the cliché, “My whole world was turned upside down,” you might rewrite, and for this example let’s say you are writing a sci-fi, “My entire universe got sucked into a black hole.”

And now, for part two of our little lesson today, I have three words for you.

Cut the fat.

Typically, a well done self-edit should reduce your manuscript’s total word count by at least 10 percent. Cut the fat and get to the meat of the story. Here’s an example:

Mary decided that enough was enough and that John had abused her just one too many times. She decided then and there that she must stand up for herself. She quickly snatched the rolling pin that she had on the counter and slammed him very hard, right squarely in the forehead with it.

The above example is loaded with unnecessary words that slow the action. Look at all the needless uses of “that;” and several other words can be cut without losing any story. Look at this rewrite:

Mary decided, enough. John had abused her too many times. She must stand up for herself. She snatched the rolling pin on the counter and slammed him in the forehead.

See how much more direct impact that has? Here’s one more:

John staggered backward, all the way back into the wall, holding the wound that Mary had just delivered, his hands on his forehead, coated with the blood that was spilling down quickly.

Lots of excess here. You’re probably smiling at my blatancy. Here’s how I would rewrite this overly plump passage:

John grabbed his forehead and staggered back into the wall with blood spilling down his hands.

One more final recommendation and then we’ll be done for the day. You should have a trusted “Designated Honest Reader” (DHR). Have someone read your manuscript who is well-read and who knows good literature from bad. Someone who loves you and cares enough about your writing career to tell you straight-up what they like and/or do not like about your story, even if some of the feedback hurts. Preferably this person is close enough that you can be in the same house and observe them when they read your book. When the DHR puts it down and goes to fix a cup of coffee or do something else, walk over to the manuscript and see – which scene was so easy to put down?

In closing I’m adding to your recommended reading the following books: On Writing, by Stephen King, and my all-time favorite “how-to” handbook for self-editing, The Frugal Editor, by Carolyn Howard Johnson.

So. With that, I’ll dismiss blog and, as usual, please leave your comments on my desk before clicking off into the Blue Nowhere. Next week we’ll reconvene with the start of another highly important topic, and …

Class, are you listening? Class? What – who – where did … this is an outrage!

Empty Classroom

Sigh, lost ’em again. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth the effort. Oh well, off to the teacher’s lounge for a nice salving cup of peach tea with a dallop of organic honey … that adorable Ms. Flanders winked at me yesterday, said she hoped to see me again today. Joy!


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Leave a Comment
  1. Stanley Berber / Apr 8 2010 5:11 am

    I stayed for most the class, really! Loved it, but had to go to the little boys room. 😦

    LOL, good lesson, and good luck with Ms. Flanders, you old dog, you. 😉

  2. Cactus Annie / Apr 8 2010 5:25 am

    I really liked the “cut the fat” examples. Too much wordiness can drag a story down, I agree. Loved the class today, Old Silly! 🙂

  3. Thelma Banks / Apr 8 2010 5:43 am

    Really enjoying this series. I missed the classes last semester, being a fairly new Free Spiriter, so this is good stuff. So how about a photo of this cute Ms. Flanders? Good luck with that, Old Silly, lol. 😉

  4. Teresa / Apr 8 2010 6:29 am

    What I like about this post, aside from the information, are the examples you give. I am a visual learner.

    I have read On Writing. I will put The Frugal Editor on my list.

    Very helpful post. I am coming back -not today but next time.

  5. Mason Canyon / Apr 8 2010 7:24 am

    Good class. Way to go on your WIP, keep it up.

  6. Terri Dryden / Apr 8 2010 7:27 am

    I don’t know how in the world I would get thru without these classes!!! My problem, I don’t have any words left, you just took them all out. (hehe) People just don’t know how hard ‘writing’ can be.

    Thanks you Old Silly. I’ll be back.

  7. Helen Ginger / Apr 8 2010 8:04 am

    Me, me, me! I’ve got my hand up. Call on me! Where’d everybody go? Even the profs disappeared. I just wanted to say that I agree, overwriting causes bloated writing. Very good class today.

    Straight From Hel

  8. Elizabeth Spann Craig / Apr 8 2010 8:41 am

    Another great post! And, like last time, I’m tweeting it! 🙂

    Mystery Writing is Murder

    • theoldsilly / Apr 8 2010 9:03 am

      And again, tanks for the tweet, Tweety! 🙂

  9. John Standish / Apr 8 2010 9:06 am

    I want to see a pic of Ms. Flanders!

  10. Leeuna / Apr 8 2010 9:06 am

    Another fun and interesting writing class. Thanks Marvin. I’d leave you and apple if I had one. 😉

  11. tashabud / Apr 8 2010 9:45 am

    Gosh, my novel word count dwindled by another 10%. Just know that I’m paying attention. Like Teresa, I’m a visual learner and appreciate the examples given.


  12. Alex J. Cavanaugh / Apr 8 2010 10:55 am

    My test reader helped me eliminate a lot of excess. I think a few ‘justs’ and ‘howevers’ might have slipped through the cracks…

  13. Elspeth Antonelli / Apr 8 2010 11:08 am

    I try to remind myself that often, ‘less is more’. Fewer, carefully chosen words will have a much stronger impact than mountains of flowery phrases. Doesn’t do much for the word count, unfortunately.

  14. L. Diane Wolfe / Apr 8 2010 11:17 am

    More excellent tips, Marvin!

  15. yvonne lewis / Apr 8 2010 11:28 am

    Hi sorry I’ve missed a few blogs have been caught up with this “A to Z challenge, but one dosen’t neglect followers of long standing so joined the class today. Have learned quite alot from
    your tips of which I thank you.


  16. ReformingGeek / Apr 8 2010 5:51 pm

    Oh, um, sorry about that spit ball. Evil Twin made me do it. Really.


    I’ll make sure I use plenty of good fat next time I cook.

    Wait. Wrong blog.


  17. Rayna / Apr 9 2010 12:56 am

    I know the Muse is with you now, and you don’t have time for much else, but whenever you can, could you pop over and read this post –

  18. yvonne lewis / Apr 9 2010 6:18 am

    Hi Marvin I had already read that blog and commented on it.
    Thanks for the message,

    Ps one of my followers has had his blog blocked, he is a lovely man quite the gentleman,
    he has started another with blogspot without any trouble but have you any idea why that should happen as I know that Google Nazis as you call them did that to you.

  19. yvonne lewis / Apr 9 2010 6:25 am

    Hi I don’t seem to be getting your new posts via email so will try again,


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