Wordcounts – The art of editing…

Wordcount. One of those words that causes any self-respecting student to shudder and even ‘grown-up’ writers to utter a slight groan.

Most of my university life was spent figuring out what was 10% above/below the set word count list, depending on the task at hand (admittedly it was more often the lower than the higher number).  It didn’t seem to matter though, I was always either left ’embellishing’ the same point repeatedly to add an extra 236 words or, like recently, desperately trying to cut words out without utterly destroying the atmosphere of the writing.

Easier said than done in most cases. Especially yesterday. I have been working on a short-short story to enter into the Leaf Books Micro-Fiction Competition, the word count for which is 300 words. My piece was 387.

Oh, I hear you say, but that’s only 87 words.

Yes, but 87 words is a lot when you consider the fact that it is effectively 25% of the entire piece. So, with an air of resignation I sat down and began to cut out the most obvious words and phrases and then went through it again.

348. Sigh.

Then I got an email from my mother, who had very kindly had a look through too. Combining our efforts the piece eventually made it to just 327. Close – but no cigar.

Next I enlisted my good friend and fellow writer-in-practice, Liberty Gilmore, to see if her fresh eyes could pick out a few more removable words.




319…and then Liberty got stuck too.

Nineteen words. Just nineteen more. I could practically taste success. Aside from the fact that I couldn’t see nine words to take out, never mind nineteen.

Slowly, feeling like I was performing some kind of delicate surgery, I began to see what more I could pick away. A few cases of swapping two words for one and one character undergoing an unexpected sex-change and I finally arrived at 306.

Those last six words were the hardest of all. Trying to pull away six words without pulling away the emotions I wanted to convey and the pictures I wanted to create was like trying to pull a single hair off an angry gerbil. (If you’ve never met an angry gerbil, count yourself lucky – they tend not to let go once their teeth are sunk in…)

Finally, after much deliberation and double checking every tiny detail with Liberty, I reached the magical 300.

I sent off the new, 300 word version, to my mother to review (and spot the almost inevitable mistake that Liberty and I had missed due to staring at it too much for too long) and went off to bed. And failed to sleep wondering if I’d ruined my work with those final six words, or if the character suddenly being a man and not a woman changed the feel of the piece too much.

The deadline for the competition isn’t until September. I have time yet. Never enough. But time all the same. For a start I need to think of a title, but that’s a problem for another day.

For now I will bask in the simple pleasure of having conquered another wordcount and hope that Mum doesn’t spot anything too terrible…

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