The manuscript is long (100,000+ words), so I'm seriously looking for stuff to cut. I'm applying the advice of Noah Lukeman (The First Five Pages), who said:
"When rewriting, pretend someone will give you $100 for every word you are able to cut."
At that price, I'm making money! Even though I've been through the manuscript "a time or two" before this (my writer-friends will laugh, since they know how long I've been working on my trilogy), I'm still finding stuff to cut. My inclination in writing is to both "show" and "tell"; in rewriting, I have to take out the little summaries that "tell."
I also tend to get too detailed with my descriptions. I see each scene so clearly in my imagination, I write down every element instead of just giving the reader the vital parts.
Another task I've set myself in this latest read-through is to streamline the characters' movements from point A to point B. In one chapter, I extruded a lot of words as my main character moved through the rooms of a large and imposing house. My critique group helped me cut about 500 words from that chapter. Instead of something like this: "She went downstairs. Hearing only silence, she walked down the hallway to the library. There, she ..." I ended up with: "Downstairs in the library, she ..."
It's good to cover the geography adequately, so that the reader can follow the character's movements. But there's no need for a step-by-step account.
My critique group has been immensely helpful with the whole paring-down process. When I read my pages aloud to them, I realize just how overwritten certain passages are. Details that don't overwhelm an 8-and-1/2-by-11 page do become overwhelming when I'm reading aloud to an audience.
Listeners have shorter attention spans than readers do, and a listener cannot retain a superfluity of detail. Reading to my critique partners is an excellent way to identify the parts that I need to distill down to the truly essential elements.
They're being wonderfully patient, my writer-friends, as I work my way through a 300-page manuscript. (We've reached page 57.) I probably won't get to read the whole thing to them, but between meetings I imagine that I still have them for an audience. I sit up in my second-story office, door closed, and read them a chapter at a time even when they're not with me.
Pretending to have an audience isn't as good as actually having one, of course. Even so, my make-believe listeners are helping me to identify unnecessary phrases and sentences. I can't get away with belaboring a point when I'm imagining myself reading to my fellow critiquers. They remind me constantly of the advice offered by John Gould, editor:
"When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story."