A Different Kind of Whittling

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal

The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it
right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. You can always do it
better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile
.  __ Robert Cormier
time here on my journal I talked about whittling – the real kind of whittling
where you take a pocketknife to a piece of wood. But there are other sorts of
whittling and one of them is what I’m doing this week.
had that deadline for my Christmas Shaker book that kept my fingers attached to
my keyboard for several days straight as I tried to race to the end of my
story. I did find the end finally with a couple of days to try to make the
words sing a little sweeter tune. A couple of days are not enough. Especially
when I knew I was too wordy. It seems wrong somehow to be working so hard to dig
enough words out of your head to try to get a story down and then realize that
you’ve dug up too many words.
Sometimes editors don’t mind a few extra
words, but Christmas books are different. They need those stories to follow the
length guidelines a little closer. I knew the story was coming in too long. I
even pulled out my contract to see what the word requirements were – 50,000 to
55,000. To give this a little perspective, most of my recent books have come in
at over 100,000 words. Sometimes 120,000. I love words and it takes a lot of
them for me to tell a story. So even with the knowledge that I was over my contracted
word length, I had to keep writing in order to finish the story. I couldn’t
worry about how long it was until I got it written. I trimmed a few words here and there, but
the deadline came and I sent the story in.
my first reader, my editor likes the story. That’s always good news. But she
did notice those extra words. So now I have a new deadline to find and
eliminate the unnecessary words. Tighten. Rephrase. Make better. The delete key
is my best tool right now. So I’m whittling out the extra words to make a
cleaner, slimmer story. Not as much fun as whittling a piece of wood, but maybe
more fun than trying to whittle down a waistline by not eating all the good
stuff there is out there to eat.
don’t really mind editing. I sort of like it if I’m not having to totally change
the story. This time I don’t have to do that. I just have to hunt down
those extra words and whittle them away, one by one. Or sometimes a sentence or
paragraph at a time. Good words that I thought were needed on the first run
through of the story, but everything can be made better. The delete key works. 1,000
or so down. 500 to go.
Do you need to whittle down something in your life?