The ten-percent solution: a tale of literary liposuction

I’ve heard this advice from multiple sources: Write, and then cut 10%.

I’m here to say it works. No, I’m here to say how it works. Between 5 August and 19 August, I banged out the draft of my superhero romance novella (for the 1 September submission deadline), fast and loose. All the stuff in the cookpot went in there, and I wrote the scenes as they came to me. It came to 33,000 words, because I wanted room to cut.

Once I was done, I made a spreadsheet with the time, place, actors and action for each of the scenes. I stared at it for a while, and then made like a film editor and spliced them into a rough cut that made sense, more or less. Along the way, I removed approximately 1,500 words of stuff that was just plain redundant.

I sent the resulting manuscript to my Brain Sister and beta-reader, in the usual fear and trembling.

A month-long timeline doesn’t leave a lot of time for angst. I stared at my manuscript and started picking away, a paragraph here and a paragraph there, to see if there were any more chunks that could be cut. I found about 300 words’ worth, and I wasn’t even sure about cutting them.

So I did the math: how many pages, how many words I needed to cut, how many words per page, how many words per line. And today, for eight hours, I went through my 147-page, double-spaced, 31,500-word manuscript and cut every superfluous word. I vacuumed out every particle of bloaty word-fat: call it literary liposuction. I even got into character by wearing my favorite set of brightly colored scrubs.

At the end, I even had a working title: Annie Brown and the Superhero Blues. The Works in Progress page has been updated accordingly.

Now I have to write the synopsis (out comes the scenes spreadsheet) and the cover letter. But that’s tomorrow morning. Tonight, we kick back, relax, and read somebody else’s final draft by way of relaxation.

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