If you’re writing for traditional publication, you’re required to adhere to certain word counts for certain publishers or genres. But what happens when you’ve streamlined and cut as much as you can…and you’re still thousands–or tens of thousands–of words over your ideal length?
The fastest way to cut length, of course, is to remove scenes, characters, or subplots. However, there are times–as was the case with my first fantasy novel, where I couldn’t cut any plot without making the story difficult to follow–that’s not possible. The only option left is the mathematical approach: take the number of words you need to cut, divide by the number of printed pages, and then cut that number of words per page.
15,000 words to cut / 450 pages = 34 words per page (roughly)
I’m not going to lie. This is a miserable way to cut words. It takes forever and it can feel like pulling teeth…or if you’re lucky, the less painful watching paint dry. However, the side effect to doing this just once is that you learn how to be more economical with your words. You start to view your writing with a sharp editorial eye. You ask yourself if there’s a better, clearer, more concise way to get the same point across, substituting one strong, specific word for three weak, vague ones. And by the time you’re finished, you’ve taught yourself to be a better writer.
There are far easier ways to cut length, but when it comes to the overall strength of your writing, the page by page method can be the most productive. Over time, your writing tightens and you begin to hit your word count goals with ease because you’ve learned to use only the right words for the situation and not simply the first ones that come to mind.