the magical manuscript diet


Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

I can’t take too much credit. I discovered it by accident really.

Here’s how it all went down . . . I wanted to read the entire first chapter of my middle grade novel at an open mic night. The trick? I had to limit myself to three pages. My chapter was four pages.


Short of inventing Spanx for manuscripts, I commenced with some serious word whittling. I chopped. I reworded. I juggled and massaged.

Au revoir to adverbs!
G’bye to gerunds! (words ending in ing)
Adios adjectives!
Toodles to too much backstory!

I made every word plead for its life. When I was done, I’ll be darned if I didn’t even miss what was missing.


What if I went through my entire manuscript with virtual Ginsus, slicing and dicing like a Benihana hibachi chef. I became a knife-wielding word Ninja. A word whopping warrior princess. A slasher of syllables. I laughed in the face of paper cuts. I was, phew, I was exhausted.

But in the end, my manuscript was tighter, brighter and more focused. The Magical Manuscript Diet worked because I was willing to do the work.

How about you? Let me challenge you to revisit even one chapter in your current work in progress. See if you can shave off a page.

That’s the magic of revisions – every cut is necessary, and every cut hurts, but something new always grows.
~ Kelly Barnhill

11 responses »

  1. Great post, Vicky. And great advise for anyone who writes anything. I stop reading blogs that use 500 words to say something that only needs 10. I like the quote that was attributed to Thomas Jefferson writing to his pal John Adams, “I’m sorry I didn’t write a short letter, I only had enough time for a long one.” (probably an approximate paraphrase)


  2. Never mind the fact that you’re a hash-slashing black mark line image Ninja warrior of “TEXT”, you just taught me how to spell some tricky words I’d probably have avoided before reading your adventurous take on editing. Thank you Vicki. You are a true warrior of word elimination!


  3. I love your imagery in this post, Vicky! My work this year has focused on tight writing too, so I too have become a word ninja. When you have to explain how a car or airplane is built in 350 words or less, every word must pull its weight or it’s out on the street.


    • Danielle, Ninja Word Warrior–don’t miss the premier tonight on PBS! Yes! Watch her toss flabby words to the curb!

      And I know what you mean about having to explain something complicated in a confined space. I have to do that with my day job for a health system. Making a complex medical procedure understandable to the average patient isn’t easy, but it’s a fun challenge!


  4. What wonderful encouragement, Vicky. Thank you so much. I’ll add to the challenge (since we’re going through the ms. anyway) when I get ready to cut an adverb, I’ll try to find a more specific interesting verb that means what was in my heart when I wrote that wordier sentence. Specific active verbs. Specific nouns that create an image. Sparkle is good, too. Ain’t writing fun?


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