You hit a point during novel reduction when you honestly believe that your work is parred to the bone; there is not a single word you can take out that won’t crack the foundations of your masterpiece and leave a pile of literary rubble on the bedroom floor.
So it’s time to take a break, and while you’re having a break, you have time to read someone else’s book. Doesn’t have to be a fresh one; in fact, it’s better if it’s one that you’ve read before. This time though, you’re going to read it with an editor’s eye: look for bits you can reduce or trim away completely. This is not to say that the author would agree with you; this is entirely your opinion.
So what are you looking for? Well, exactly the same excesses you’re looking for in your own work:
- The odd walk or journey that doesn’t lead anywhere or tell you anything new about the characters.
- Repeating information: something that is said, and then said again, in a slightly different way, a few lines later.
- Long, flowery chapter intros that set a nice poetic scene, but will probably get skipped over by the reader. (You’ll know them when you see them, because you jump the last ten lines or so.)
- Long flowery chapter endings that you feel resentful for having read. (You’ll know them because you’ll think, ‘What the hell was that all about?’ as soon as you’ve finished it.
- Sentences that seem to run on for years and years.
- Whole chapters that you think you could do without.
- Characters that bring a little colour to the story, but not much else.
Be brutal; in fact, be over-brutal. You’re not really criticising your favourite author; you’re getting yourself in the right frame of mind to criticise your own work … again.
Then, after another few days, go for it again. You’ll find that you weren’t quite as ‘finished’ as you first thought.