Earn Those Quarters

This is a tribute to the best English teacher I ever had—Janet Williams. She is in heaven now, but I hope she knows I still use a trick she taught me.

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Just this once, feel free to copy off my paper.

One of Mrs. Williams’s pearls of wisdom: After you write, go through your piece and pay yourself a quarter for every word you cut. This is something I now do with every draft.

Search and destroy

I don’t cut important words or hunky verbs. Adverbs bite the dust, as do fillers like rather, just, that, and very. Gone also are was and were, as these signal passive voice.

Watch out for unnecessary words. “She stood to her feet.” (What else would she stand to?) “He scratched his forehead with his hand.” (What else? If he used a felt-tip pen that might be worth mentioning—particularly if the cap was off.)

Be active

We are children of the video age. If I write, “The cat was on the table,” the movie screen in my mind is blank. Instead I write, “The cat was yawning on the table.” But I earn a quarter if I write, “The cat on the table yawned.” There! Active voice—and I can see it.

I cut backstory from the first 50 pages. Readers want to move forward, not backward. (Guild members: See James Scott Bell’s alternate approach.) I carve out exclamation points and explanations, because my purpose is to grab the reader. I also delete paragraphs of description, as I can describe what I have to as my characters move through the story.

Practice makes perfect

One of my publishers reissued a book I wrote years ago. Without changing the plot, I cut 6,000 words.

Learn and practice the skill of self-editing. Imagine what you can do with all those quarters . . .

Angela Hunt counts her quarters in Florida. Visit her daily blog at http://alifeinpages.blogspot.com.


  1. Joanna says

    I enjoyed this. I’m finding it’s fun to cut out stuff. I have the suspicion that I’m feeling a lot like my five year old did when I gave him the safety scissors and a whole pack of construction paper. Let’s see what we can make from cutting!

  2. says

    I’m in the cutting stage as we speak in my first novel, so if I use your English teacher’s mantra, I’m looking for hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars by the end of my 3rd edit. Thanks for the post! It was very encouraging.

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