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There are moments when you are writing something that you realise that it is becoming too big, too tangential to work. You could throw in the towel there and then – and yes, I have thought of that many times – or you could step back from the page, from the words and start to see that you have to be a bit ruthless. I have a number of short stories but my stories sometimes nudge above the five thousand word mark, there are publishers still out there who will take longer fiction but then there are those who simply say no, even if you’re over by one word. The question arises, can I write a piece of fiction that is two thousand, five hundred words long? I remember one of my first editors, M.Y. Alam, author of Annie Potts is Dead (Route Books), he looked over one of my stories and said it was too long which is slang for, ‘We’re not taking it’. He then asked me how attached was I to the first page. I asked him what he meant by this and he replied, ‘Do you like that page so much that you’d risk it never being published?’ The first page went and the story was published. It taught me a valuable lesson that a writer sometimes cannot see the story for the words and the story did start on page two. M.Y. was right on that. That is the fight you have as a writer when you start to look at your work with your editor’s hat on. Cries of, ‘It’s all shit’ ring out across the hills. Writers go on social media to moan that they are useless and sometimes some evil bastard says, ‘Yes, you are’. Then I get on with writing. Just joking but the act of going on social media saying you’re useless does make you useless, it’s all psychology and I know writing this here makes this post an oxymoron. I am moaning about writing whilst telling you what to do. D’oh!
Sometimes you have to step back and realise you need a word count, not because what you are cutting is rubbish but because it will give you clarity. That’s the editor in me, looking for structure, looking for the why, what, where, when and how. That’s me saying, ‘Why do you take three pages to tell me that you are a woman in Birmingham?’ That should have been in paragraph one, for the last three pages you have been talking about canals and I thought I was in Venice. Those things. Do them before you get biffed or worse, left in the slush pile.