Rule 9. Always carry a knife…for editing.

As I mentioned when I began my rules, I based them on the rules created by the main character of the TV show NCIS. Among the more infamous rules is Rule 9: Always carry a knife. For federal investigators, having a good knife makes sense. Besides the obvious self-defense factor, a good knife makes a useful makeshift tool.

Mostly it’s great for cutting.

The knife I have in mind is more mental, the ability to view your completed work with a critical eye and, as a friend of mine is fond of saying, “kill your darlings.”

If you want to get published you need to make your stories tight. The right word, the right phrase can reduce and entire multi-sentence paragraph and have more impact. Most importantly, it gets that word count down.

When a publication guideline reads: Max. 5000 Words, that means 5000 words is as long as they want the story. What it really means is they would be happier with something shorter, but 5K is as high as they’ll go. In fact, the closer to the max you get the harder a sell it’s going to be. Get that word count down.

For many that’s difficult. Some writers I know need paragraphs just for a character to say, “Hello.” Many just can’t see that their story actually starts on the second page and the first 500 words are superfluous. Some, like me, just love every damn written word.

Cut them.

Get that knife out and slash and hack. Be a serial killer of words. If you run across a particularly nice phrase that just doesn’t quite fit, save it to a special file for such things—every diamond needs the right setting—just cut it out of that story. Make that story tight. Keep the readers interest throughout, because once it wavers, you’re toast.


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