Overwriters Anonymous

At our small town’s single transfer print shop, the owner hefts a large paper bag across the counter toward me. It contains a print-out of my current writing project, a novel.

I take it home and shove it into a binder, where it lies semiconscious like a patient awaiting surgery. If my writing life were a TV show, this would be the point where the heroic doctor becomes wracked with self-doubt and goes on a bender while the figure on the gurney lingers in a netherworld between life and death. Someone had better come along quick and snap the doc out of her morbid funk or the audience is going to give up and go channel-surfing.

Perhaps you can help.

The story began it as a NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge. I banged out the first 65,000 words a couple of Novembers ago, and then after a pause of a few months I went back to it and kept on writing, and writing and writing, until I reached The End. My wondrously supportive and talented husband even designed a cover for it with its working title, Glory Days, to keep me inspired.

Here’s the blurb for it:

Set in 1919 on California’s central coast, Rosalie “Red” Munro has grown up riding and shooting. When her rich fiancé betrays her and sells off her ranch, she flees on horseback. In a ramshackle Wild West show along El Camino Real, she encounters enemies and allies — including the mysterious Johnny Black Dog. It’ll take more than a fast horse and a faster gun to save her home — and her life.

OK, I’m still working on that. But you catch the drift: the idea was to craft a historical adventure-romance, a rollicking yarn with no pretensions other than to be escapist entertainment, a worthy beach read. My previous novel takes place amidst the Armenian Genocide, so this time I wanted to lighten up.

Alas, in its current form my lighthearted romp suffers from morbid obesity. It weighs in at almost 124,000 words. Four hundred and nine pages. It’s so bloated that even my husband doesn’t want to read it until I’ve whittled it down to size. I am prepared to be remorseless; the problem is, I don’t even know where to begin.

So I appeal to y’all, dear readers. Some of you are writers. Others of you are or have been teachers. All of you are intelligent people (intelligent enough to not write themselves into a corner, probably, unlike yours truly). Let’s say you needed to excise 25,000 words of excess word blubber, without nicking into muscle or severing any major arteries. How would you go about it?

Don’t be shy: any suggestions you offer are automatically covered by an automatic and understood disclaimer. I just need a fresh perspective, a shot of courage, and a sharp object.

I’ll be waiting in the bar. Just kidding. Mostly.



  1. Wow – that sounds like a huge project! I totally get why you’re overwhelmed.

    Given that you wrote it in a couple of “spurts”, it’s possible you might have repeated information or verbiage without being aware of it. Delete or combine obvious duplicates, that should help.

    As a historical fiction author I LURVE my research, and forced myself to cut scenes that were me showing off or justifying hours spent in the library. If the reader doesn’t need the information to make sense of the story, remove it.

    [Of course, don’t permanently delete anything, move it all to a separate file somewhere, but you know what I mean…]

    • Believe me, I have a “cutting room” document all ready to go for whatever has to go under the knife. But you are right: once I sidle back up to my draft, I know there are many repetitions that can be excised. I sure do understand the mighty temptation to shove in COOL FACTS that one’s research has turned up, only to discover on rereading that they don’t serve the story even a little bit. Thanks for your good thoughts!

  2. I’ve never quite believed it but Dr Johnson said, “Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”

    • Aha. Thank you for reminding me of Dr. Johnson’s wisdom: pretty sure he was onto something there 🙂 As for the two-book thought, that’s an interesting idea.

  3. Oh, Jan! If only I could give you some worthwhile advice. I almost never write more than 1,000 words at a time and have never written fiction. I was a teacher, but I was a CHEMISTRY teacher!
    I have a little bit of experience getting students’ abstracts down to size (<300 words). I used to tell them to write whatever they wanted for their first draft(and it seems like you did this), then try to pare the word count down by reading and re-reading and removing anything that did not advance the "story" of their lab.
    Have you ever read Larry McMurtry? HIS Western novels are sometimes pretty wordy, but riveting (IMHO). Are you sure you need to get rid of 25,000 words?

    • LOVES me some Larry McMurtry — at least, some of his work, like “Lonesome Dove.” I should probably revisit it.

      Strikes me that while you were teaching chemistry, you were also doing a dang fine job of teaching writing!

  4. Oh wow, I guess it’s better to have too much than not enough. Maybe you can cut out some unnecessary characters or plot lines?

    Of course, I don’t know much, because I have 3 unfinished novels hiding on my hard drive…

    Sounds like a great story, Jan. I bet you’ll make it terrific!

    • Three novels? I am impressed. I would bet the rent that within them lie some gems awaiting extraction from their matrix, and polishing. But SO much easier said than done, right?

  5. Aaarggghhhh!!
    So hard! But cut it up into small pieces and do one piece each day…
    DO NOT think of the whole task – it’s TOO MUCH – one small piece at a time and DO NOT think of the end product.

    • Right you are! Looking at it in its bulky entirety is like trying to see the top of the mountain from its base. One foot in front of the other . . . 🙂

    • Undoubtedly, Susan — but I wouldn’t even run this one past an editor until I’ve whittled it down to manageable size!

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