top of page

The Art of Precision: How to Cut Down My Writing

For many writers, getting started with a new project is the most exciting part. You are free to experiment with your ideas, explore different ways of telling the story or expressing your ideas, and write as much as you like.


Eventually, though, the time comes when you have to take a step back and consider how well your work fits the assignment or audience, which often leaves you asking, “What’s the best strategy for how to cut down my writing without making myself nuts?”


Because let’s face it—this isn’t something most writers like to do.


However, unless you’re keeping a diary or writing for private purposes (which is perfectly acceptable!), you must remember that you aren’t doing this for yourself. Most people write because they want to express something to readers.

Therefore, it’s important to remember that writing is not a self-indulgent act. Every decision you make in the editing process should revolve around whether it will ultimately help readers understand what you want to share with them.


But cutting specific parts of the story or passages can be painful, particularly if it’s something you think is pretty awesome or consider essential to your message.


This is also compounded by the fact that knowing where to even start cutting can be challenging. Yet, the art of precision is essential for every writer, whether you're trying to meet a specific word count, eliminate off-topic content, trim excessive detail, or remove parts that halt the action.


It’s important to remember that the process doesn't have to be painful or dilute the richness of your message. The goal is to refine and sharpen your prose to improve readability and succinctness and, ultimately, tell a better, truer story for readers to enjoy.


Still, if you hate cutting down your writing for any of these reasons, there’s no need to fear. In this blog post, we will explore strategies for effectively trimming your writing without losing its essence or impact. Let's dive into how to cut down my writing with precision.


Meeting A Word Count


Reducing your word count demands a precise approach. It’s crucial to scrutinize your text for words and phrases that don’t add significant value. Start by eliminating redundancies, often found in adjectives and adverbs that don’t enhance understanding.


Additionally, assess your sentences for wordiness. Shortening or splitting long sentences can often eliminate unnecessary words and clarify your points.


Next, focus on strong, active verbs. Passive voice, where the subject of a sentence is acted upon rather than doing an action, tends to introduce “be” verbs without contributing to the effectiveness of your writing. Switching to active voice can make your writing more direct and reduce your word count.


You can also remove adverbs and other filler words and phrases. Words like "just," "very," "in order to," and "that" can frequently be cut without altering the meaning of your sentences. This not only helps meet your word count goal but also strengthens your writing.


Consider each paragraph’s contribution to your main argument or story. If a paragraph diverges from your central theme, it might be a candidate for removal or revision. This not only aids in reducing your word count but also ensures that your writing remains focused.


Finally, after making initial cuts, revisit your work with fresh eyes. Often, you’ll find more opportunities for condensation that you might have missed during the first review. Remember, the goal is not just to reduce the word count but to refine and enhance the clarity and impact of your writing.


Weeding Out Off-Topic Content


Identifying and eliminating off-topic content is a critical step in sharpening the focus of your writing. As you delve into this process, scrutinize each element of your work to ensure it aligns with your primary goal. It’s easy to wander into tangential discussions or to embellish with details that, while interesting, do not serve the main objective of your piece.


To stay on target effectively, begin by evaluating the relevance of each paragraph and sentence. Ask yourself if the information directly contributes to the purpose you’ve set out to achieve. If it doesn’t, it may be diverting attention away from your central message. Removing such distractions allows your intended point to shine more clearly and potently.


Furthermore, pay attention to the flow of your argument or narrative. Are there places where the progression feels interrupted by unrelated information? These are key spots to consider for cuts or revisions. By ensuring that each component of your writing builds upon the last, you maintain a coherent and compelling path for your readers.


In this process, be disciplined yet thoughtful. It can be tempting to keep sections that you personally find engaging or well-written, but if they don’t serve the larger purpose of your writing, they might need to be set aside.


Remember, the aim is to convey your message in the most effective manner possible, which sometimes means letting go of content that does not contribute to this end. Being objective is critical. Getting enough distance from your writing will help you see whether a passage you don’t want to cut truly benefits your reader.


Trimming Excessive Detail


One of my favorite movies is Genius, which explores the relationship between novelist Thomas Wolfe and his editor and mentor, Maxwell Perkins. If you’ve ever read anything by Wolfe, you know he isn’t exactly known for being succinct. He’s known for featuring sprawling sentences and detailed descriptions in stories that take hundreds of pages—upwards of a thousand—to unfold.


But even this style has to be controlled and reigned in. Check out this clip from the movie, where Wolfe brings his novel Of Time and the River to Perkins for its first review, and watch what happens.




When Perkins first sees the completed manuscript, he’s understandably overwhelmed. But I love how he doesn’t rebuke Wolfe for it—instead, he tells him, “Well done.” It would have been so easy for him to dismiss a book that arrives to him in literal boxes. Instead, he calmly thanks him and sits down to read it.


Pay attention to how Perkins demonstrates how to cut down the description of the girl. It’s not that the writing is bad—it’s astonishingly good. But it does belabor the point. Despite the contentiousness of their discussion, they reduce a massive paragraph to something punchy and powerful.


The lesson is when refining your writing, it’s vital to examine the level of detail you include. Detail can enrich narratives and characters, but an overabundance may distract or bore your readers. When assessing your work for excessive detail, target descriptions, backstory, or character thoughts that do not directly contribute to moving the story forward.


How do you know if a detail is something you really need? Ask whether it supports the plot's progression or deepens the reader's understanding of key characters or themes. If it does not fulfill these criteria, consider it extra and ripe for cutting. This approach tightens your narrative and ensures that every word serves a purpose.


Additionally, evaluate your descriptive passages. While setting a scene is essential for orienting the reader to what’s happening, too much description can stall the action. Aim for a balance where the environment is clear but not overbearing, allowing the story’s action and character development to remain front and center.


By thoughtfully reducing excessive detail, you make your writing more accessible and engaging. This practice emphasizes the significance of each remaining detail, enhancing the overall impact of your narrative. Through careful editing, you create a piece that captivates with clarity and momentum, ensuring that your readers stay engaged from start to finish.


Cutting Your Writing to Keep the Action Moving


For writers aiming to maintain momentum in their narratives, it is essential to eliminate segments that disrupt the story's flow. When revising your work, carefully examine any instances where the pace falters. These could include extended dialogue scenes with little progression, descriptions that linger too long without enhancing the scene, or narrative digressions that divert from the central action.

To address these issues, evaluate the necessity of each piece of dialogue and description. Ask if they push the story forward or contribute significantly to character development. If they do not meet these criteria, they are prime candidates for reduction or removal. This process can help preserve the story’s pace, ensuring readers remain engaged without unnecessary interruptions.


Additionally, scrutinize scenes for their contribution to the plot’s advancement. Sections that merely serve as fillers should be condensed or cut without moving the narrative toward its resolution or deepening the readers’ understanding of the story. This streamlining effort will enhance the story's coherence and keep the narrative trajectory clear and compelling.


By adopting a meticulous approach to trimming parts that halt the action, writers can craft stories that captivate and hold the reader’s attention throughout. This focused editing not only improves the pacing of your narrative but also strengthens the overall structure, making every word count towards the ultimate impact of your story.


Need Help Cutting Down Your Writing?


Download a free copy of the Story Revision Scorecard.


This tool outlines the six most common issues with first drafts and helps you rank your work in progress according to which area you need to work on most.


No more confusion about how to get started with your revision or becoming overwhelmed by trying to do too much. It focuses and streamlines your revision so you can stop wasting time and zero in on how to make your writing impact your readers truly.


Click below to have a copy sent to you!

13 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page