I’m going through my novel page by page, but I’m taking the pages out of order, so I can really concentrate on the words. It’s exhausting! Took me three hours today to get through sixteen pages. I could _write_ sixteen pages in that time. However, by the end of the day if it the equivalent of 2.5 pages! And I largely did it line by line, word by word.
That’s the most amazing thing about line editing. I estimate that by the time I’m done, my forty thousand word manuscript will be about thirty-three thousand words, and I won’t have lost a single character, plot point, scene, or beat. Someone who’s read the earlier draft will be able to read the later draft, and they will have no idea what, if anything, I’ve cut.
It’s incomprehensible even to me, and I’m the one who’s actually doing it! This is the kind of editing that your agent or editor won’t tell you to do, but I think it makes a huge difference. The experience of reading a tight manuscript is just qualitatively better than that of reading a loose one.
But it’s also the most mind numbing and exhausting part of the writing and revision process. There is nothing creative about this: it’s simply the repeated application of certain intuitions about the line. Over and over, I make the same edits. I have two lines that do the same thing, so I cut the weaker one. I have a detail that doesn’t advance the story, so I cut it. There’s a line that reads awkwardly so I reword it. There’s a string of sentences that start the same way so I either turn it into a purposeful device or I mix it up a little. I strike out certain overused or inessential words. It’s all _really_ simple.
Sometimes I question if this is worthwhile. I don’t think that this essential. A manuscript isn’t going to fail to sell because the language is loose. For one thing, a certain looseness in language is actually more palatable for bad readers, because they don’t need to think as hard or pay as much attention. That’s why so many bestsellers have such flabby writing (major one coming to mind right now is THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER). And then if the book sells, you have a zillion MORE rounds of editing and maybe you need to do this AGAIN. So part of me is like, “Why am I doing this?”
And I don’t have a solid answer to that. I think it’s just because the book might not sell. This might be the last time that anyone reads it. And if it doesn’t sell, I’ll want to know that I didn’t everything possible to give it a chance.