Cutting text is an important part of revising your book but it brings inherent dangers: deleting too much and not deleting enough. So, here is a quick guide to deleting to help you get it right.
The most important thing to remember when cutting text is to make sure you do it on the first read and to do it quickly. If you spend too long deliberating you will get stuck. Use your instincts too; they will often be your best guide when it comes to cutting your text.
Quick deleting guide
- Whenever you are going to delete text make sure you create a backup in case you get a bit over enthusiastic with the delete button. Simply save your document as a new version. This will prevent you from getting too nervous about making cuts.
- Decide whether to make your cuts on a printed copy of your book or on screen. Editing is usually best done from a paper copy but you may prefer to do it on screen. Do a small section first to see if it works for you.
- Work fast and avoid getting bogged down in detail. Start with cutting paragraphs and sentences and only start cutting out individual words when you are fine-tuning your content.
Cutting large chunks of copy
Begin with the big bits that need to go. These are the paragraphs and sentences that do not fit in the chapter or the book. You can move things around as well, so just because it doesn’t fit in one place doesn’t mean it won’t fit elsewhere so bear that in mind before you get rid of your words altogether.
Things to think about when you cut out large chunks
- Whether you can use the material elsewhere in the book or in blog posts, articles, or even in another book you have in mind.
- Make sure you save the text or move it when you see it otherwise it may not be as clear to you the second time you read it.
- When looking to make cuts, remember you have a word target for each chapter so if you are going to get rid of a lot of words, make sure you are prepared to write more to keep your word count right.
- If you have repeated yourself, first make sure you choose the best version of what you are saying and delete the less expressive.
- Make sure you delete red herrings – you can spot these as they either go into too much detail on a small point or involve you in adding sections to the chapter that you hadn’t originally planned.
When you get to the point in your revisions where you are fine-tuning, you will be looking to cut out parts when you have got too verbose. If you want to tighten up your text, cut out padding words, like ‘quite’ and ‘really’. If you find you lose track when reading back a sentence, you may need to not only cut but rearrange it as well. Cut down sentences that are too long by breaking them up into shorter sentences. When you do this, you may find that some of these short sentences are no longer necessary.
Cutting an over-long book
When your book is significantly over-length you will need to do a word count before you begin cutting. Once you know how much over-length each chapter is you will know how many words you need to cut. This will help you to avoid cutting too much, which may be a temptation when the book is too long.
It’s easy to get a bit over enthusiastic with cutting and end up with a book that is far too short instead or far too long. If you have a lot of cutting to do – for example if you need to cut your chapter in half – look for whole sections you can get rid of before you start doing any fine-tuning.
Cutting an under-length book
Cutting an under-length book may seem counter-productive at first. However, if your book is under-length, it doesn’t mean you need to keep everything you have written. Cutting out the parts that don’t work will help you to see how the book is flowing.
This will make it easier to write the extra copy when you get to that point because you will be able to see what is missing more easily. It’s a bit like cutting back weeds in a garden; once you can see the plants you have you will know what to add to make the garden balanced.
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