How to save money on copy editing #2: Beware of overwriting!


Most of us write too much in our first drafts.

But having a lot of material is a good problem to have. It generally means we’ve dumped all that we know onto the page and we’ll sort it out later. We haven’t edited ourselves into staring at an almost blank page. We’ve ignored the voices that tell us why we should be doing something other than writing. We’ve made a start, even though we don’t know where it’s leading.

Yet at some stage we need to rein in our tendency to overwrite or over-explain, lest the reader get bored, or perhaps worse – think you think they’re not that smart (so need telling at least twice). 

This over-writing, over-explaining caper comes mainly from two sources:

  1. Not trusting yourself

  2. Not trusting the reader.

No matter which of the above is the problem, you have to wrangle your words into the most efficient order to suit your purpose, in fiction, memoir and business writing – it’s all the same.

So, to number 1: Not trusting yourself

It might be a bit rough to say that you’re not trusting yourself. Often the writer is still working out what they need to say, which is fair enough. If the act of writing helps you sort your thoughts (as it does for many of us) then do it! But that draft is not for the reader and, if you want to save dollars, do more work before showing your editor.

General things to look for, include:

  • Ideas that don’t go anywhere. They might be brilliant, but if they don’t fit into the narrative you’re forming, they have to go! (Don’t fret – use them another time.) 

  • Saying the same (clever) thing twice. It’s common to do this in early drafts as you’re collecting and collating your ideas. Learn to identify this in your own writing. (If you can’t, ask someone to help. Thirty minutes with a professional editor pointing out your overwriting will mean you see it yourself, forever!)

  • Once you can see overwrites, pick the clearest, most engaging, pithiest way to say it, and delete the rest. (Sometimes this process brings a whole new, fresh – better – combination of words.)

Now to number 2: Not trusting the reader

This is where the writer shows their intention clearly from their action or dialogue, but then doubles up by having the narrator explain the intention. In fiction, it’s like showing and then telling as well, just for good measure.

Tip: If the action or dialogue works clearly on its own, cut the explanation or qualifier that accompanies it. This also gives the reader some space to put things together for themselves rather than having the narrator always tell them where to look.

May your words onto the page,