I learned something last night. I probably knew it subconscously but it came to light in a big way when I started working through several critiques from members of my online writing group.
I had submitted a first draft of a story I plan to send to Chicken Soup for the Soul's new book that uses Volunteering as its theme. I mentioned that I was almost at the maximum word count--1200 words--so there would not be room to expand on what I'd written. Critiquers often suggest adding more. That's fine if you have wiggle room but in this one, I didn't.
Each of the critiquers, or critters as we have named ourselves, marked plenty of words and info that could be deleted. Omit a word or change a phrase to one simple word and the space to expand starts to come available. A few pointed out that the information in one whole paragraph did not actually add to the story. Instead, it was background information that could be eliminated without losing anything in the main theme.
I started editing as per the critters' suggestions and when I finished, I realized I had about 150 words left to expand a little in places. I added some dialogue and a bit of physical description here and there and finished just under the 1200 word mark. Hooray!
Using unnecessary words, repetition and information that doesn't add to the story are common errors we make. We do these no-no things most often in our first draft. We can read the completed draft after finishing and never see those problems. Our eyes slide right past them.
If we put the draft aside for a few days and read it again, the errors appear. Some almost jump out and hit us squarely between the eyes. When that happens, I admonish myself because I know better but it's a first draft and we're writing to get the main story written from start to finish. Our mind is not worrying about the little problems.
I sent the first draft to my writing group for critique right after I'd written it. The deadline was looming and I needed to have it looked at and then revise and edit quickly. Yes, I sometimes break my own rules! Had I left it for a few more days, I'd have caught many of those errors. One other fact is that someone else reads our work with totally objective eyes and they see more. Sounds crazy but is absolutely true.
It's quite amazing how much can be cut. Remember that old TV commercial with two little boys eating cereal. One brother says to the other, "Try it, you'll like it." So go ahead, try this method, you'll like it!
The best part is that you will have a stronger piece of writing.