I recently interviewed and profiled fellow Columbia alum Andrew Martin for our magazine and wanted to share his writing process, specifically about cutting for word count. Get this: The editing stage required him to cut almost 100,000 words.
This is why I always remind my students that their favorite books or movies started out at least twice as long as the version you read or saw. For that reason, you should always ignore word count while you’re still honing your draft. One of the common mistakes I see is students stop developing their self-reflection because they reached the word count. Or they literally stop writing at 650 words—mid story. Or they neglect to include important context because they’ve already met word count. Don’t let word count get in the way of your storytelling.
Andrew’s editing process happened after he finished writing for a reason. Editing for word count should come in the final stages when you feel like you’ve told your whole story. Take as many words as you need to tell your truth. Then, refine and edit with each draft. (Yes, plan on writing multiple drafts and revisions - that’s how good writing happens!). By your fourth draft, you can start to think about editing for word count.
Andrew also recommends developing a daily writing habit, which is an exclusive part of the interview you get to read that didn’t make the cut for my profile. (See, I have to cut stuff all the time too!).
“What you really need to do is work on your writing over and over again and improve it like you would with a sport. It requires exercise, constant exercise,” Martin says. “So I started really writing every day, which is the obvious dumb thing you tell people to do, but it's it’s still really, really hard to actually do.”
I also found his advice on writing a novel pretty helpful too (this did make the cut):
His advice for future Andrew Martins? He recommends bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived, uncompromising resolve. “You have to acknowledge that it’s going to take a long time, and you have to be willing to dedicate your life to it,” Martin says. “It’s really hard to follow through on a novel. It’s easy to start. It’s easy to be in the middle of one. It’s really hard to end one. It’s just a lot of work, and it’s going to take up years of your life. You’re never going to get anything done unless you’re willing to get rejected 100 times and keep showing up.”