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Take a Sword to Your Words

  • July 11, 2016
  • Blog

Swords are sharp and strong and you need to cut every single word that doesn’t help your story. Start off with bold, sweeping cuts, then change to a knife to give it the fine tuning it needs. What’s that? You’re publishing indie? Well, it’s true that there’s no publishing house ready to cut your darling words to shreds, so that means you can write whatever you want, right?


If anything, you need to be even more ruthless with your prose. This, by the way, pertains to all writers, even traditionally published ones. I once read a book that included a wedding scene so long and detailed, I felt I had been there but hadn’t gotten anything to eat. More to the point, the scene didn’t serve a purpose. Yes, I was waiting for those characters to wed (it was book four, after all), but that didn’t mean I needed to sit through it in real time.

So, cut. Slice every single word that doesn’t serve a purpose, that doesn’t move the story along, and that wouldn’t be missed if you removed it.

You’ve done that, you say. And then you went over it a few more times and cut even more. Great. Now hand it to an editor. And be prepared to be shocked. I suggest keeping a supply of high-grade chocolate nearby when you get the corrections back. Because there will be corrections despite your best efforts.

I can hear the howls when those pages return to you. It’s as if that sword sliced through you instead of the work. Walk away and take deep breaths. Vigorous physical activity can help. When you’re calmer, return to the pages.

Be honest. Read the sections and leave out the parts the editor suggested you cut. Did you even notice they were missing?

Because it’s indie, you will have the final say. You might agree with some cuts and ignore others. That’s fine. It’s your story. Just make sure it’s the very best it can be.


  • Marie MacBryde • July 12, 2016 at 8:56 am

    I think this is one of the best advice for writers but the most difficult to do.

    • J. M. Levinton • July 12, 2016 at 12:13 pm


  • R.G. Emanuelle • July 12, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    All true. Tough to hear, but necessary.

    • J. M. Levinton • July 12, 2016 at 11:12 pm

      And tough to do!

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