Aim. Add. Subtract.

Aim. Add. Subtract.

Folks, this is the last Friday in April, which means it’s the last Friday in our self-editing month, which means that this is the last of our editing-themed emails. Outside my window, there is a chorus of sad ukelele music, accompanied by one sorrowful kettledrum and a blackbird with a nasty ear infection. The blackbird is consistently one semitone out of tune – but, you know, it has an ear infection, the poor thing. And who doesn’t love a kettledrum?

And, you know what, last week’s feedback Friday asked people to ADD text to a passage from their work in progress. Unusually for me, I thought that pretty much everyone doing the task ended up improving their passage. Sometimes that meant going from good to excellent. Sometimes it meant going from OK to better. But no one’s passage got worse. Not one.

But it’s also nearly always true that when people focus hard on deleting surplus text, that text gets better. Again, when we’ve done one of these exercises, there’s nearly always been a consistent improvement.

And at its heart, maybe 80% of editing comes down to just these three tasks:


If you don’t know what your elevator pitch is (the one that’s just for you, not for an agent or for anyone else on earth), it’s hard to check that your book is on track.

So yes, I think you need to understand your pitch before you start writing anything. But inevitably the act of writing the full text will change your understanding of that pitch, so you need to check, refine and tweak it before you get too stuck into editing. Remember the boxes, remember those imps.


Kill surplus text.

Be utterly perfectionist. Two unnecessary words in a 16-word sentence is a massive issue and those words have to go. Three descriptive sentences will in most cases be at least one too many. Figure out what the best bits of that description is and make it more compact.

Anything approaching a cliché should be treated in the same way as surplus text. It’s like a little bit of dead wood. A place where the reader’s eye is likely to skim forwards waiting for the narrative to engage properly again.

Nearly all this skimming happens on a near-microscopic level. Two or three words here. A sentence there. An underpowered image over yonder.

But those things are like plastics in the ocean or low-density cholesterols. The damn things cumulate. Slowly the poison the whole bloodstream fills / The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

Don’t let that happen to you – either the verbiage, or the cholesterols or (if you’re a porpoise) the whole sea-plastics thing.


Then figure out where your work is underweight. At key moments in your book, you need to linger to get your reader to feel the depth of what happens. What does your character think about what’s happened? What do they feel? How does this connect with other things on their mind (a husband, a loss, a quest)? What is the experience like of having this thing happen to this person in this particular setting?

The challenge here is about layering. It’s about adding relatively small amounts of text in a way that adds whole layers of depth to the passage. We had our refresher on layering last week here.

And that’s it. Aim. Subtract. Add. I’m not saying that’s all that’s involved, but it is definitely most of what’s involved.

Grr. Attaboy. Attagirl.

Those ukeleles are starting to annoy me.

Feedback Friday: Edit, Edit, Edit

So, your choice of challenge for this week:

Aim: Give me your (just for you) elevator pitch plus a pretty one (for agents). Keep em short, please.

Add: As for last week, give me a 200-word passage to which you have added 50 words or so. The aim is for that extra material to add richness and depth to the action which you already have on the page.

Subtract: Give me two versions of the same passage, please. The first one needs to be 300+ words. The second one needs to be 250 words or fewer. And they both need to say the same thing. I’m looking for editing that produces no meaningful loss of content.

As always, give me title, genre, and a word or two of explanation if needed. This exercise is always open to all, but I’ll only give feedback to you lovely Premium Members. If you happen to think ‘Odzooks and Jiminy Cricket, given that the whole membership paradise is available for just £12.50 a month (approx. US$15.50), I really would have to be duller than a country-turnip not to avail myself of all this writerly goodness,’ you can just scuttle over here and do what needs to be done.

That’s it from me. Post yours here. I’m off to re-home a blackbird and murder some ukelele-ists.

Til soon.


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