Be Like a Barber and Snip!

Dudley the dog chased his favorite tennis ball. He took a nap in his happy spot—a square of sunshine just in front of his doghouse. He played tag with his friend Cleo the Cat and asked advice from Polly the Parrot who sat on her perch. He practiced how to sit for his lessons at doggy obedience school…

And then the story was done.

How much fun I had creating another story! It was about one of my favorite characters, Dudley, whose antics appear from time to time in Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse Jr. Now that the story was finished, however, I knew it was time to get out my imaginary scissors and cut. Why? Because the word count for the assignment was 800 words and the story I’d crafted was a whopping 1600.

But hey—that’s a frequent occurrence when I write! Now that it was time for the self-editing stage, I was ready to chop, chop, chop.

Why did I let the story get so long if I already knew my word count? It’s because first I had to tell the story and get it down on paper. Believe me, I kept the word count for this assignment front and center. It helped me not get carried away and write a 5,000 word story! But I also kept the word count issue far enough away from my brain to allow the creative juices to flow and type the story on my computer. That’s often the hardest part of writing—getting the first draft completed and the story told from beginning to end. Still, it’s only the first half of writing. The second half involves self-editing. And for me, that means cutting it down to size.

First I saved the story in its entirety. You never know if one day the same story could be expanded into a longer version—so since I already had that version on my computer, I saved it. This also gave me more freedom to chop since I knew I wasn’t losing my favorite parts forever—just giving it a trim to look good in its magazine market debut.

The first thing I looked for was “chunks.” Any big block of text that I could remove went in one fell swoop. An introductory paragraph that wasn’t really needed to tell the story, a bunny trail about the game of hide-and-seek that Dudley and Cleo played that didn’t really further the plot, and several sentences describing the different antics Dudley did while learning to sit just weren’t necessary. So chop, chop, delete. Away they disappeared into cyberspace. This lowered my word count drastically.

Then I went through and tightened. If I used five words and could say the exact same thing in two, I now did. If dialog seemed a bit wordy, I now tweaked it. From the top of my manuscript to the bottom, I went through and tightened the story as best as I could.

Then I did a paragraph search. I looked at each paragraph by itself. If the paragraph really could be shorter, I cut. If a sentence really wasn’t necessary in that paragraph, I deleted parts of it or even the entire sentence if the paragraph still said what I wanted it to say.

And finally, to cut my last 50 to 100 words, I incorporated the topsy-turvy approach. I started at the bottom of my manuscript and worked my way to the top! Sentence by sentence, I made it my goal to take out one word from each sentence. It’s amazing how effective this technique is.

By the time I was finished, not only did I have a story with the correct word count, now I had a story that was tightly polished and honed to perfection. Dudley looked like he’d been to Paws and Claws for a bath and a trim. He was ready for submission and on his way into the hearts of his readers.

-Contributed by Nancy I. Sanders
Art by Dave Clegg, DUDLEY’S HAPPY MORNING, February 2004, Clubhouse Jr.


5 responses to “Be Like a Barber and Snip!

  1. gloriastockstill

    I especially love the idea of starting at the end of the story and trying to delete a word from each sentence!


  2. Shirley Shibley

    How exciting to see one of my favorite characters on our blog this morning! Though some of your editing techniques are ones I already employ, you gave some new timely tips I never thought of, such as the topsy-turvy one. I can hardly wait to try it! Is Humphrey jealous of Dudley or Cleo for their fame? Just thought I’d ask.


  3. Glad you both like the topsy turvy approach! I guess it’s kind of like how Veronica flips her artwork to look at it upside down or backwards–its gives a whole new perspective on the manuscript and allows my brain to snip, snip, snip! -Nancy

  4. Valerie Koukal

    Hi Nancy! I LOVE your editing tips. I see, most of all, that it takes a great deal of inner strength to not hold on too tightly to what you have created and to not treat every word as if it is precious. Having to take the pruning shears to what you just labored over for possibly hours, weeks, months, or years takes an incredible amount of courage! Thanks for helping writers pull ALL the tools out of our toolbelts and really use them!

  5. I have to copy this and save it. It’s just full of good information and advice. Thanks!

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