The Aftermath of 'Send It'

This isn't the first time I've heard 'send it'. But it's the first time I actually did send it (see here for why I didn't before). I've been thinking this week about how differently I looked at my manuscript once I knew who would be reading it. Suddenly, the pages I thought were just fine (having been critiqued and edited and re-edited), didn't look as ready as I'd thought.

Length. The agent asked for the first 30 pages. For my novel, that included the first four chapters. But I really wanted to include chapter five in the sample, since the end of that one precipitated something significant for my character. So I really examined each paragraph, identifying which ones carried their weight, and which sentences could be eliminated.

Tightness. Once I started rereading the pages, I realized there were many words that weren't completely necessary. I hunted for words like 'that', unnecessary phrases like 'I saw', and excess prepositional phrases. A couple of made-up examples:
Before: I saw the guards moving closer.
After: The guards moved closer.

Before: She thought that she ought to leave now.
After: She ought to leave now.

Paragraph squaring. I made up this word, but I learned the idea from fantasy author Carol Berg. It's a way to shorten the length of a manuscript (and Berg should know--her first drafts can be as long as 175,000 words!). Look at the tail end of a paragraph--the words that don't fill a whole line. Try to eliminate enough words somewhere in the paragraph to eliminate the 'tail'. When I first heard this idea, I was skeptical, but it really made me examine my words with a new eye, and I felt so good when I shortened the manuscript by another line. I'll be using this in the future, for sure.

Working hard for a week helped me get rid of over one thousand words, and I fit the extra chapter into my sample pages. Whew! It wasn't easy, and I read and reread those pages more times than I could count, but it was worth it. Now I'm applying the same techniques to the rest of my novel, hoping to bring the word count down.

How do you tighten your writing? Does submitting to an agent or editor make you look at it differently?


  1. How do I tighten my writing? I let Nat read it, and she tells me to delete a bunch of stuff.

  2. My notes from Carol Berg will be next to me when I begin revisions. Good luck with the send it.

  3. I like the paragraph squaring idea...great tip, Debbie! I'm finally posting my Q and A post tonight. Thanks for the "tag"!


  4. I thought Carol Berg's paragraph "squaring" was a fun way to approach tightening. I'd forgotten about it until you mentioned it but I think I'll try that approach in the future.
    I decided to do a major edit/rewrite before sending my manuscript. I am stressing big time because I need to get it done before the kids get out of school and it just seems like too big a task. But it will be worth it! My book will be better for it.

  5. @Joel: Nat is the best at tightening! That's definitely the easiest method.

    @Stacy: I used my notes from Carol Berg and Weronika Janczuk (who talked about compactness).

    @Jarm: I'll take a look at your Q&A. Looking forward to it!

    @Evangeline: I'm so glad you have more time. Kristin's card gave me a code that was only good for ten days, so the clock was ticking!


  6. Wow, you cut over 1000 words? I'm impressed...

    Funny how I had already been cutting out those "tails" and squaring off paragraphs just because I hated to see that lone little word stuck there all by itself. Early on I learned how that technique could tighten things up. It really has helped me.

    Keeping fingers crossed for you as your sample pages find their way to the agent. Hope you get encouraging news :-)

  7. Thanks, Kenda! I was surprised how much I was able to get rid of. Makes me realize I was wordier than I thought!


  8. I also take great pride in seeing my paragraphs and chapters shorten. But only because I ALWAYS have too many words in my rough drafts. My current revision project is seeing me chop thousands and thousands of words off.

  9. I've discovered I'm wordy, too, Trisha. Sounds like you've found some good ways to ferret the extra words out!


  10. Debbie, I'm a fellow wordy person, too. But I've learned to be better about it. :-) I like the idea of paragraph squaring. Good way to not eat up a whole line with only a word or two.

    Good luck to you! I'm excited for you...



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