Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Welcome, Joan Koster/Zara West!

 The Question that Is Key to Any Successful Revision

One of the hardest parts of revising my novels is knowing what to keep in and what to take out. Every word is precious. For a long time, I resisted taking out a single word, and then I was asked to remove 20,000 words from a romance novel I had submitted to an agent.

20,000 words?

What in the world could I remove that wouldn’t destroy the story? I had already tightened up everything as much as possible. I’d cut out every unneeded and overused word. I’d shortened my long paragraphs and sentences. I’d even removed a lot of my lovely description of the small town and bay where the story was set. How could I remove anything else?

I thumbed through the manuscript. I had used Gwen Hayes’ Romancing the Beat as my template. There was the cute meet and initial attraction, the first rejection of the possibility of love, the point where the hero and heroine were thrown together on the boat, the moment the attraction became irresistible, the first touch, the first kiss, then the moment of doubt, the betrayal, the break up, the regret, the grand gesture on both parts, and the final coming together.

Then it struck me. I set the manuscript down. I was asking the wrong question. The question I needed to ask—the question that is key to any successful revision—is what absolutely has to be in the draft to make the story whole?

I went through the manuscript again, highlighting in bright yellow all the scenes that related to the romance plotline. By looking at what had to be kept, I suddenly saw the things that were extraneous—extra characters in the bar scenes, a side trip added because I wanted to share a place I had visited, the long-winded description of a sunset over the ocean that was lovely, but irrelevant to the romantic couple who had other things on their minds. 

It wasn’t easy, but in the end, I did remove 20,000 words. Hopefully, you will never have to do the same. 

But if you do need to tighten up a draft, looking for what has to be kept instead what should be cut may make the process less stressful and more productive. That’s because it is always better to see the positives instead of the negatives. 

Give it a try and let me know what you think.





You’ve finished your rough draft—great! Here’s how to quickly and easily revise it to show off your true writing skills.

From the award-winning author and educator who brought you the Fast Drafting method comes an easy, effective way to approach the often daunting task of revising your work. It doesn’t have to be difficult or frustrating! Revise Your Draft: And Make Your Writing Shine.


About the series:

Don’t just write…write for success! From award-winning author and educator Joan Bouza Koster comes a revolutionary series of guides showing you the steps that helped her writing not just land an agent and book deal but win praise from readers and literary tastemakers. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, romance, thriller, or historical, this series delivers behind-the-scenes tips, inspiration when you need it most, and the flexibility to fit your writing career. Write with confidence and write for success.


Available from AMAZON


About the Author

When she is not writing in her studio by the sea, Joan Koster lives with her historian husband and a coon cat named Cleo in an 1860s farmhouse stacked to the ceiling with books. In a life full of adventures, she has scaled mountains, chased sheep, and been abandoned on an island for longer than she wants to remember.


An award-winning author who loves mentoring writers, Joan blends her love of history, and romance into historical novels about women who shouldn’t be forgotten and into romantic thrillers under the pen name, Zara West. She is the author of the award-winning romantic suspense series The Skin Quartet and the top-selling Write for Success series.


Joan blogs at JoanKoster.comWomen Words and WisdomAmerican Civil War VoiceZara West Romance, and Zara West’s Journal and teaches numerous online writing courses. Her 30 Days of revision Tips will be offered by From the Heart Romance Writers this January.








  1. Thanks so much for sharing. Great information.

    1. I hope you never have to cut 20,000 words, but I am glad the article was helpful.

  2. 20K words? I feel you for sure. I once had a story where the editor cut 1/2 of the novella! Lucky for me (after a complete meltdown) she explained we would put it all back - rearranged to fit the revamped story from romance to romantic suspense.

    Good luck and God's blessings with your very interesting work

    1. Thank you for the good wishes. You know just how I felt. It is horrible when you have to tear something you've written totally apart. I am glad it worked out well for you.

  3. OH and I LOVE the idea of highlighting what's imperative to the plot/story to get a grasp on what can go - I'll use that in the future :-)

    1. I love highlighting and use it for so many writing situations. The digital highlighting in Word is so easy to use especially during fast drafting and revision, and it is quick to erase from the final document.

  4. Oh my goodness, you hit it right on the head. But you know, sometimes it's hard to know the difference between what I think is important to the story and what really Is :) I heard one author at a conference say it something like this: don't write the parts that readers skip. Thank you!!

    1. The trick is to know what readers skip. When cutting words in romance, having a romance beat sheet really helps. That is what the reader wants to know - what's happening between the lovers. Everything else is window dressing important in its own way, but more easily changed or removed. here is link to more about Gwen Hayes' Romancing the Beat

  5. Thank, Peggy. Happy you enjoyed it.