A participant in A Meeting With Your Writing admitted that she was discouraged. She needs to cut 2000 words from a paper. She thought it would be easy but it turned out to be really hard.
This is one place where counting words works against you. You wrote all those words for a reason, dammit.
It seems to me that “cutting” is the wrong metaphor
It’s as if you imagine the editorial equivalent of a tumour in the middle of your paper that you can diagnose and surgically remove.
But what are the chances that there is a 2000 word tumour in your paper? Not high.
At best you are going to find a few redundant paragraphs.
Revision is not cutting
What you are really doing is revising your paper.
You are making the arguments clearer.
You are finding more concise ways to express the core ideas.
You are ensuring that you have the evidence you need to support your arguments.
Are you trying to do too much?
If you have 2000 words more than you need, perhaps you need to refine the focus of the paper.
Are the beginnings of a different paper hiding inside this one? Can you move them into a new file and flesh them out later?
That might take some work. Like the surgeon removing a tumour, you don’t want to damage the organs that remain. You may need to do some thinking about the overall goal of this paper before you go in there with your scalpel. And it’s unlikely that you can just lift whole paragraphs out.
You may have 2 arguments twisted around each other. It may be a matter of giving primacy to one in this paper and treating the other fairly superficially and then reversing the focus in a separate paper.
Try summarizing your paper in one sentence. Then go through the paper asking yourself whether or how each paragraph contributes to that overall argument.
Extract an outline. Clean up the flow of the argument in outline form. Then go back and tidy up the prose.
Are you battling gremlins in this paper? Identify passages that are trying to secure your argument against potential criticisms. Are you protesting too much?
Share your revision strategies
What have you tried when faced with a similar dilemma?
What have you heard about that you’ve been thinking about trying?
Share in the comments.
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