So you asked how I did it, cut TUBE Draft 2 from 153K words down to 74K words in Draft 3. I didn't do it on purpose. It just happened, so I'll describe to you what I did and then maybe together we will glimpse some magic (I'm sure there is some, there always is).
1. I typed the new draft in a new file.
I suppose this is how revising looked like in the times of the typewriters. You set the manuscript on the desk and looked at it and typed it up on the clean piece of paper with whatever changes came to mind. And the advantage of this is, as I learned, is getting carried away by the story and typing it without even looking. That's what happened to me. I'd remember what happened next and type it up and then look and see that I have said it in fewer words. At first I freaked and tried preserving the previous draft. However, the new clean concise writing was so much better that I soon abandoned the effort. And thank God I did.
2. I cut out all explanations as I went.
I believe I blogged about this before (here and here), this epiphany on explanations. You don't need to explain anything to your reader. Your reader is not dumb. So why do you do it? At first you explain things to yourself so you yourself understand them as you don't know them yet well enough. That's why later you can cut those things out. For me it was:
- Summaries ("All was chaos...")
- Backstory ("When she was a little girl...")
- Needless descriptions ("The blue of the sky was so terribly blue line the blue of the...")
- Dialogue that was surfacy and had no substance ("Are you doing okay?" "Yes, I'm doing okay. Are you doing okay?")
- Whole blocks of thoughts and emotional narrative ("And then she felt so scared that the feeling in her chest...")
- Beginnings and endings of scenes. Like, a scene would start and if see if I could push the beginning of it further to where the action really starts, and then end it on a point that was the actual ending and not me rambling on about it.
So that was about 79K words total cut. All water. Good riddance.
3. I wrote down only what I remembered.
Once I stopped being afraid of not following the previous draft and simply writing out of my head, I started writing down only what I remembered, and turns out I remembered only the most important stuff. I kept a file of scene summaries (one sentence per scene—I can email it to you, if you want to see it) to keep track of the story, and I ended up reshuffling scenes out of order without knowing I did so. They fit better. And so some entire scenes were cut out that way. If I couldn't remember them, they were not important.
4. I nuked a bunch of characters.
This happens with every one of my books. Some secondary characters are so similar that I end up combining them (2 or 3 into 1) or getting rid of them altogether. They serve no purpose and the story ends up cleaner without them, plus I can focus more on those characters that really push the story forward.
5. I took my time.
This might sound backwards, but it actually takes longer to say something succinctly and in fewer words than rambling on for pages and pages. I took my time thinking, and though I was frustrated that some days I only produced about 500 words in 5-6 hours, when in the previous draft I did something like 2000 words in 2 hours, I kept at it. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and it took forever to come up with exact words I wanted to say it with. Some of them I'm still not satisfied with, but most of them came out the way I wanted to.
6. I let the story dictate the length.
There was this fear that I will cut too much and it won't be enough for a novel-length book. It took me a while to get comfortable with the idea that it would be a better novella or a short story if I just let it be. In the end I ended up adding some scenes and the total word count came to the perfectly normal novel length. The next time I'll do it, I'll be less afraid. I'd rather produce a great story, no matter the length, than some watery overblown narrative that will bore you out of your mind.
7. I read aloud as I went.
I do this with every draft now. The beauty of it is, you get bored reciting stuff that's redundant so it's easier to slim down your writing only to what you want to say by literally saying it aloud so you can hear it. Dialogue especially. Seeing it on the page is one thing, hearing it is another. Same with descriptions. It might look pretty on the page, but once you hear yourself drone on and on about the carpets in the room and the light fixtures of cut glass and crystal and the intricate embroidered patterns of upholstery, you go, "Fuck this shit, man. Who cares about light fixtures? Get on with the story already!" Unless, of course, the light fixtures are spackled with blood, then they do deserve a mention.
That's it, really. Nothing else special happened in the writing of this draft. I notice that my first drafts are quick and relatively short, and it's my second drafts that expand into fucking infinity, when I truly get to know the story, so my third drafts end up much shorter with all that extraneous stuff gone, and my fourth drafts are usually about the same length as my third ones and are really there just for polishing the prose.
Does this answer your question? Did I just share with you my most valuable secret? If so, send socks and vodka. YOU BETTER. (You know what will happen if you won't.)