Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Editing: Increasing or Decreasing Your Word Count

Tom Schreck

Typically, the advice you get is to reduce your work by at least 10% with each editing session.

If you've got 100,000 words when you start you should have 90,000 after you edit the first time and
80,000 the second time.
"On Writing" is my favorite writing book

Good writing means using the fewest words possible to get your plot, characters and feel communicated.

Could your editing ever result in increasing your word count?

It does for me.

That used to bother me but it doesn't any more.

I've come to realize that my first draft is for me to get stuff out of my head and on to paper. I write for short bursts of time and when I go back and read what I've written I've almost always find that I need to develop themes more, get into characters more and smooth out the plot by adding seasoning.

It goes against Stephen King's, Syd Fields and Robert McKee's advice.

The lesson? Take advice, find out what experts say and then do whatever it takes to get your book written.

On the Ropes is on sale today for 99 cents on Amazon. Click here


  1. I'm the same way. My first draft is lean—just getting the story down—and in my second draft I add scenes, descriptions, and more character development. Writing advice is as subjective as the reading experience. It either works for you or it doesn't.

  2. Split personality weighing in here: I also write spare, Tom, then have to go back and put in more description, etc. However, I can also write OTT and have to remove paragraph after paragraph of "too much" whatever, generally dealing with emotion.

  3. I forgot to mention that in the third draft, I cut out the "fat" and reduce the word count some.

  4. You make a very good point here, Tom. In the manuscripts I receive for editing, they fall in both camps. Some are way too sparse and need more sensory details, location specifics, and character reactions and emotions to bring the scenes and characters to life on the page.

    Others go on and on and are way too wordy and repetitive and need some major, judicious trimming to cut out the weeds and deadwood that are cluttering up the pages and hiding the good stuff!

    So take the advice from the gurus that applies to your writing style and WIP, and leave the rest!

  5. About a particularly beautiful piece of prose, left out of a masterpiece, Antony said, "that was the unkindest cut of all." And considering how many words Stephen King produces (with how much revision?), 10% per round seems fair. I rather like Samuel Johnson's advice, that when you've written particularly fine passage, strike it out.

    I've written stuff that needed lots of cutting and stuff that needed flesh and bones. Some write and trim, others write and expand. I write ambi-valence.

    Jodie makes this point: It's not the cutting, it's the editing. And I'd amend your "Good writing means using the fewest words possible..." to "good writing uses the most effective words possible..." because sometimes that's not the fewest.

    Good post, addressing an important topic, and reminding us that though the word processors count words mechanically, there's nothing mechanical about our word counts.

  6. I'm in the overly verose camp with my frist draft. But that's OK--as long as the last draft is stellar, who cares how we get there? It's interesting to read about the different paths there, though. Good post!

  7. Well said.

    Likewise, I tend to lay out the bare bones, get it out of my head and clean it up later. I end up adding and deleting, as required.

  8. My first draft focuses more on action and dialogue. During revisions, I add more sensory detail, thoughts, and emotions.

    I blogged about the process of nearly doubling the length of a manuscript to meet an interested editor's guidelines:



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.