Cut it Out! Word Counts and How to Keep Them from Running Amuck

09 Mar

finished-essay-word-count-spotonThe dreaded word count…it haunts you. When you are writing a novel you do your best to hit that right number for the publisher, when you’re writing magazine articles you can often find yourself looking at a 300 word article that was supposed to be 1200. Let’s face it…we writers are notoriously long winded when it comes to our writing.

Magazines and book publishers reject manuscripts all the time because the word count is too high. If you are anything like me, when a publisher comes back and bellows those dreaded words…”cut it”…I break out in hives. Cut it where, I always find myself asking…I don’t want to cut out anything good. (and let’s face it folks…it’s all good) So what is a writer to do when they are faced with putting some of their verbiage in front of the firing squad? Here are a few suggestions….

  • Give your character an action instead of describing it -  too many writers will kill you with description for example – “You are mean,” Bob said his words wrath with pain. Let’s face it, Bob doesn’t like you much but do you have to give him so many words? How about, “You’re mean,” Bob whined. You saved 6 words there.
  • Use your “ings” - Using the ‘ings’ eliminates the need for conjunctions. (I know all you School House Rock fans are sniveling)
  • Dump the adverbs –If you don’t an editor or publisher will admonish you, trust me.
  • The amazing word “that” needs to go – Why is it amazing? Because once you are done with a manuscript if you go back over it and highlight every instance of “that” you will be completely in awe of just how many time you have used it. We all use the word “that” like most teens use the word “like”…send it packing.
  • Remove adjectives like a butcher cutting red, smelly beef from a cow that stood in his field like a the house that Job built - Okay, I’ll stop, but you get the idea. Many writers will beat you in the face with adjectives…don’t be one of those writers.

These are just a few ways to cut your word count down and not mess with your actual story. There are other ways too but these are the basics. Accept that we are long winded and just understand that, in the end, you will more than likely have to cut. I would like to suggest that you do leave the cutting for the editing process however. I find that if I try to cut as I go, I never get the actual story written.

So tame those word counts people…..


© The Writer’s Advice, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

1 Comment

Posted by on March 9, 2023 in Editing, Writing


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