Much of what I do at my "day job" involves editing what others have written. Eliminating typos, repairing damaged grammar, replacing missing or misused punctuation--I relish editing, in a roll-up-my- shirtsleeves and rub-my-hands-together sort of way.
Often I get to transform a garbled attempt to communicate into something that's clear, concise and, well, readable. Change a word here, slice a few there, and I can add pizzazz to something that started out flat and lifeless. I like to think of myself as a highly skilled word surgeon, deftly able to remove extraneous verbiage with my scalpel--er, pen--and often performing complete paragraph transplants with total success.
That is, until it comes to performing surgery on my own writing. Then I frequently feel like a word surgeon with fake credentials.
There are times when I simply cannot see how even one of my golden words could be improved, much less removed. How dare editors impose restrictive word limits? If I'd thought that any words weren't necessary, I wouldn't have written them in first place, right? Maybe, for me, editors will make an exception. Once they read my incredibly crafted piece, they'll bend their own rules, run it as written, even thank me for ignoring their guidelines...
Or, more likely, they won't run piece at all. If they do, they'll whittle it down to size themselves, and who knows what damage they'll cause? Not all editors can call themselves word surgeons, you know. Some treat our writing with all delicacy of a demolition crew clearing way for a new super highway.
So if we want to keep what we've written intact and adhere to editorial guidelines at same time, we need to self-edit. But how can we objectively view anything that we've subjectively written? How do we unemotionally apply our editor's scalpel to work that we poured our hearts into?
I believe that first step in self-editing is to leave what you've written alone for a while, to detach yourself from it.
Recently, I wrote an essay specifically for "My Inspiration" section of National Association of Women Writers' newsletter, "NAWW Weekly." In its original version, my article weighed in at a porky 900-plus words. The editor's word limit? Six hundred, maximum.
Eliminate over 300 words? Where? Squelching my first impulse to submit it in its entirety, and my second impulse not to submit it at all, I let essay sit for several days. When I returned to it, I immediately found several wordy phrases that I could painlessly delete. Rewriting other sentences from passive to active voice reduced word count even further (while grammar sites and books deal with passive/active voice at length, there's a nice summary here: http://www.english.uiuc.edu/cws/wworkshop/grammar/active.htm).