Stephen King recommends cutting 10% of your prose in your final pass (in On Writing
). I scoffed when I first read that. "Surely not! Every word I lay down is a perfect and necessary jewel in the crown of my prose."
Nonsense. My initial revisions usually add to word count as I layer the senses in and describe things more clearly and close off plot holes, but for the final prose-only pass, you'd be amazed what you can actually strip out. Simplify verb phrases (e.g. disgruntledpeony's "beginning to act") and take out filtering verbs (realised, thought, decided--those are all things you can imply by just showing), use specific details to imply others, take out unnecessary asides...
Try writing for FFO or Nature, with their strict word limits. You'll soon realise just how much you can cut out when you need to, even if it sometimes takes two or three passes--and you'll spot stuff on that third pass, when you still
haven't made it under word count, that you'll wonder how you ever missed such an inefficient phrasing.Here's a recent example
, an excerpt from something I've got under sub at Nature (so please don't share the link further--the piece is unpublished). On the left is draft 1, and this section adds up to 199 words; on the right is the second draft, at 179. Exactly 10% cut, and I managed to get a couple of extra details in as well--I cut enough that I could afford to add something new in. (Sorry for the weird text wrapping on that site, but you get the idea.)
Also: learn which phrases you lean on. I overuse just
at criminal levels, and if I do a Ctrl+F for them, 90% can be deleted outright. Some people have characters gasping or nodding or smiling all the time. We all have our crutches, you gotta learn what your own is
(fun game: see if you can spot the unnecessary just
in this very post...