Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Different Kind of Whittling

The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon. You can always do it better, find the exact word, the apt phrase, the leaping simile.  __ Robert Cormier

Last time here on my journal I talked about whittling – the real kind of whittling where you take a pocketknife to a piece of wood. But there are other sorts of whittling and one of them is what I’m doing this week.

I had that deadline for my Christmas Shaker book that kept my fingers attached to my keyboard for several days straight as I tried to race to the end of my story. I did find the end finally with a couple of days to try to make the words sing a little sweeter tune. A couple of days are not enough. Especially when I knew I was too wordy. It seems wrong somehow to be working so hard to dig enough words out of your head to try to get a story down and then realize that you’ve dug up too many words.
Sometimes editors don’t mind a few extra words, but Christmas books are different. They need those stories to follow the length guidelines a little closer. I knew the story was coming in too long. I even pulled out my contract to see what the word requirements were – 50,000 to 55,000. To give this a little perspective, most of my recent books have come in at over 100,000 words. Sometimes 120,000. I love words and it takes a lot of them for me to tell a story. So even with the knowledge that I was over my contracted word length, I had to keep writing in order to finish the story. I couldn’t worry about how long it was until I got it written. I trimmed a few words here and there, but the deadline came and I sent the story in.
Happily, my first reader, my editor likes the story. That’s always good news. But she did notice those extra words. So now I have a new deadline to find and eliminate the unnecessary words. Tighten. Rephrase. Make better. The delete key is my best tool right now. So I’m whittling out the extra words to make a cleaner, slimmer story. Not as much fun as whittling a piece of wood, but maybe more fun than trying to whittle down a waistline by not eating all the good stuff there is out there to eat.
I don’t really mind editing. I sort of like it if I’m not having to totally change the story. This time I don’t have to do that. I just have to hunt down those extra words and whittle them away, one by one. Or sometimes a sentence or paragraph at a time. Good words that I thought were needed on the first run through of the story, but everything can be made better. The delete key works. 1,000 or so down. 500 to go.
Do you need to whittle down something in your life?


  1. Ann,
    Praying for you as you whittle down the words on your Christmas story. I just can't wait to read it.
    I love feeling the need to whittle down when it comes to clutter...I love a simple, clutter free home, so I work on this often.
    Blessings to you Ann,

    1. My everything, including my schedule, the stuff on my desk, the kitchen, everything needs whittling down, Cathy, and de-cluttering. I need to be like you and work on getting a simple, clutter free home. Maybe you will inspire me to start - next week! :)

  2. Ann, loved your blog. Finding out about authors gives the books more meaning to me. I look forward to starting to read one of your books.

    1. Watch out are going to be hooked. Once I found Ann's book, I have read everyone of them.
      They are so wonderful.


    2. Hi, Cathy, both of you Cathys. Thanks so much Cathy W. for giving my blog a try and I hope you'll enjoy my stories if you try one of my books.

      And thanks, Cathy, for getting hooked on my books. You're so kind.


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