Editing is such a dreaded word in the writing world. The bell of the ball is the actual writing. It’s fun, creative, and you feel like you’re creating something wonderful from nothing other than your own imagination. The red-headed step child then is the edits. This is where you “kill your darlings,” slash that prose that just sounded like music to your ears, and correct all those grammatical mistakes we made in the fervor of the process.
One way to muddle through it is to keep one think in mind, “Write for you but edit for them.” Write till you feel like you’ve gotten every detail you want on paper, make sure every character is fully developed and every plot line explained and resolved. Then you walk away. Give it a beat; a day, a week, a month, whatever you need to get some distance from the work. When you feel ready to return to it with fresh eyes, start slashing it to bits. How do you do these sweeping cuts without losing everything that your novel is and means to you? Cut out what is unnecessary for everyone else.
We, as the author, need to see every detail but readers are smarter than most authors give them credit for. They can fill in the blanks. They don’t need to every last detail spoon fed to them via your laptop. The writers job is to tell the story, set a mood, give the novel feeling, realism and a variety of characters who seem very much real and alive to the reader. You may need to know the backstory, what they had for dinner, where the main character parked his car or the name of the high school they attended, but more times than not, your readers don’t need to wade through the details to get to the actual story.
Here are some hard truths; with some very rare exceptions, your 200,000 word suspense masterpiece will not sell. You will not get an agent with something they cannot sell. Again, there are always exceptions, but I’m talking in broad strokes here. What publishers want right now are concise novels. Thrillers that are fast paced and to the point, and suspense that keeps you on the edge of your seat and doesn’t slow down; even if you write Women’s or Literary fiction there are still limitations. Fantasy and Sci-Fi may give you a bit more wiggle room for world building but those numbers are getting smaller for debut novelists. If you don’t keep your word count within a reasonable range, you’ll continue to get passed over.
It may sound hard but you can do it! Focus on what it’s about and with every line you re-read think to yourself “If this is my first time reading this book, is that something I NEED to know?” I have personally cut thousands of words from my novel this way. It’s not fun and it sure as hell ain’t pretty but it’s something we have to learn to do in order to create clean, crisp, and fabulous novels that flow well for our readers. And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about.
So I say again, “Write for you but edit for them.”