In a recent discussion with a colleague, she  spoke of her finished manuscript and confessed, “I need to trim my novel.”Medieval Writing

And I responded, “Who says? Your critique partners?”

And she said, “Nearly everybody.”

Well, “everybody” is pretty consistent feedback, so I asked the dread question, “How long is it?”

“175,000 words.”

I spewed iced tea through my nose. Yup. To say she needed to “trim” would be like saying Chewbacca the Wookie needed hair remover.

So whoever thought that you could write 300 words and end up with a tool for the perfect final draft?

That’s what happened to me when I accepted my pal Christian Yorke’s “flash fiction” challenge. Generally, flash fiction is an extremely short story somewhere between 300 to 1000 words long. There doesn’t seem to be any real consensus to the length. Keep in mind that there are generally about 250 words to a page, and you see how short flash fiction can be!

I started writing, and my submission to Christian’s contest, Her Winning Smile, ended up right at 300 words. The punchline? I had started out at almost 900 – nearly three times the word count.  So what’s a girl to do?

Cut. Cut big time. Don’t fuss with the little trims here and there.

So, starting out with a 900-word draft, I ruthlessly razored it down. I got rid of entire “scenes” and some fave sentences. Why? They didn’t seem to fit, or were repetitious, or weren’t powerful enough. This got me to about 600 words.

Then I got picky. Is this word the perfect word? Can punctuation – rather than words – help me? Can I rephrase the sentence – and tighten it? It was like trimming a tree – I had taken out the big branches first, now I was “shaping” the little ones.

I reached my 300 words. Then I compared the original (handwritten, I might add) version, and my final.

I would never have believed it. The 300 words said more – and said it more powerfully – than its 900-word predecessor. At last I’d found it – the path to the perfect final draft.

  1. Write the first draft freely – don’t edit, don’t revise. Don’t worry about wordcount.
  2. Set it aside for some period of time (for my little piece, this was only a day).
  3. Come back to it. Set yourself a trim target – your final word count for the scene/chapter. Don’t be a puss! Be aggressive.
  4. Cut big. Eliminate digressions, repetition, and anything that slows the pace.
  5. Swear a little bit. Cry if needed.
  6. Trim it up. Tighten, rephrase, restructure, strengthen.
  7. Swear some more. Cry some more. Get a friend to hand you tissues if needed. But reach your trim target.
  8. Compare the two versions.
  9. Marvel at the honed final product. Marvel at the sloppy first draft.
  10. Stop sniveling and repeat steps 1-9 on other scenes/chapters.

No kidding – Christian’s competition provided me with the path to the perfect final draft. Thanks, friend. You have no idea how much I needed it!

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