Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Maunscript Diet

Have you ever had a manuscript gain an unsightly number of pages, so much so that you cringe at the cost of printing it out?

I am usually a short writer. When I started college, I trembled at the thought of ten page papers. Ten pages? Who am I, Charles Dickens?

When I wrote my dissertation and managed a whole 250 (including 25 pages of bibliography and tables), I was flabbergasted. I'd maxed out. That was for sure. Never would I write anything longer. Ever.

And I didn't.


I started my present WIP. It's about a boy and a dolphin set in late 19th century New Zealand, and I even got to go to New Zealand last November for on-sight research. At that point, the ms was still a manageable 285 pgs.

Over the last year, I think my WIP secretly gorged on adverbs, Anne of Green Gables poetical monologues, and New Zealand scenery because it grew to a whopping 420 pages. A real full figured dame.

Given another era, another economy, another stage of existence in the publishing industry, and it might have been fine. Dickensian (or Botticelli) full, but fine. But it's a hard sell in today's market.

After a lot of thought, and talking with other authors, and speaking with agents, and pretty much hashing until I had come to terms with the inevitable, I put my ms on a diet. A serious diet. No liposuction here. I mean serious, word-counting, shave-off-the-excess pagery reduction.

I started three weeks ago. Being the slightly obssessive compulsive neurotic writer that I am, I'm keeping a "diet" journal. At the end of each day of revisions, I weigh in. The rule is that the ms word count cannot be any higher than where it was at the beginning of the day. I strive to make it a lot less. So far, it's been working. I have successfully shaved 11,000 words off, and I'm only through the first 120 pages.

Oh sweet success. I can almost taste the adverbs.

No, No! Bad writer. Stay away from the adverbs!

See how hard ms reduction is?


Please keep your fingers crossed. Pray to any and all writing muses. Send me parsimonic vibes. My ideal ms weight: 70-75,000 words (285 ms pgs), and I want to reach that by Winter Break. Which means, no adverbs on the side. No waxing poetically about scenery. Cut. Cut. Cut. Snip. Snip. Snip.

And, every once in a while, celebrate the hard won successes.


Now back to counting words...


beth said...

I totally sympathize--I don't have 400+ pages, but I do get wordy, so I always start revising by cutting 5-10k words from the manuscript.

Keri Mikulski said...

Painful.. :) I'm completely with you. :)

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

You are SO funny! The Anne of Green Gables reference is a HOOT.
I'm good at editing down manuscripts, so if you ever want a hand...

Scott said...

Oh, I'm right there with you, though I had about 90 more pages than you did. : )

I've taken the MS from 141,000 words down to 128,000, and plan on getting rid of at least 5,000 or more words.

My MS is kicking and screaming, and I think it's binge eating when I'm not around!


Kim Kasch said...

I believe in keeping it short and sweet or at least yummy. . . why do I always have to think about food?

No wonder I have so much trouble dieting.

Bee said...

I'm pretty sure that kids don't like scenery descriptions as much as adults do.

Any chance that you can re-shape some of the discarded bits?

Stacy Nyikos said...

The discarded bits really could be discarded. I over-described in this piece. A Lot. Which is so weird. I have never had this wordiness trouble before. Why did it have to rear its ugly head now???? Why can't I learn all the lessons I have to at once and then just get on with the writing?

adrienne said...

Those adverbs are tempting. Good luck with that diet...

Sarah Laurence said...

That reminds me of my first MS. How painful!
I love the humor in this post. It sounds like you are making good progress.