Looooooooong First Draft? Not A Problem!

I've heard agents say selling a debut over 100k is very tricky. The book has to be something special. Really, really special. It's not impossible, it does happen, but you'll give yourself a better chance if there are fewer words.

And believe me, we can get rid of plenty of words.

If your first draft is 90k+, you'll have plenty to trim, rewrite and delete. Even if you think you can't part with a certain scene...yeah, you can. Trust me. You're just going to have to do lots and lots and lots and LOTS of editing.

Precisely why I own this mug ;)

Here's my Golden Rule Of Editing: If reading it back to myself is boring, everyone else will be bored too. DELETE IT!

You'll be grateful you did.

I recommend a "big picture" edit to begin with. This means sitting down and reading your MS, noting down every paragraph or dialogue exchange that doesn't move the story on and DELETING IT. If you've got a book over 90,000 words long, you'll find plenty to get rid of. And there is something really satisfying about running a BIG RED LINE through everything you can cut out of a draft.

Once the big picture stuff is done, you'll need to restructure sentences, sort the punctuation, make sure your character descriptions all match up and ensure your plot makes sense. Once all that's done, it's time to get down to the nitty gritty problems. Things like deleting overused words. My worst offenders include "but" (about 400 came out of Colony), "just", "as" and words ending in "ing". Look out for "filler" words like "well", especially in dialogue. Keep things like that to an absolute minimum.

Want to know how many words ending in "ing" came out of Ghost!Story? Over 2000. Yeah. This is what I mean when I say nitty gritty. It's hard graft, but it's worth it. Your book will thank you for it. Your word count will decrease, too.

The more books you write, the better you get at keeping a plot on track and therefore the word count in check. You're always going to have to edit, but you'll make your life easier with practice.

How many words have you deleted from a MS? Got any other handy tips? Share in the comments!


  1. Great advice! I never thought about looking for overused and filler words -- you wouldn't think it, but those small words really do add up. Definitely going to keep that in mind during my next editing run!

    I shaved off 13,000 words from my first draft -- I waited a month before I started editing. That helped me disconnect from sections I had previously been attached to and allowed me to see the big picture. I also re-wrote a brief plot outline from memory (without re-reading or referencing my original outline), and that allowed me to identify what the real story was and what was just extraneous subplot.

    1. They really, really, really add up. I've removed thousands from manuscripts over the course of edits.

      Yeah, time between drafting and editing is a great way to gain the distance you need. I like your idea of a brief plot outline from memory. I may have to give that a go :)


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