The trial that is brevity

Aug 13, 2016 at 9:13 PM
Many of you know that when I'm in social settings, my worst failing is that I fall into my own mouth. I get word vomit, and the more nervous I get about word vomit, the more random blatherings come pouring out. It's my primary social failing. I'm too damn wordy.


Now that I've been writing steadily and getting published for a few years, let me tell you of the hardest part of writing, from my perspective.

Some writers talk about how hard it is to come up with an original story. I'm never troubled by that. See, I personally believe that even if it's already been told, I might be able to write it in a new way. And then it's new again.

Some people say they have trouble getting started. That's not my problem.

Some people say they're too perfectionistic and never let go of their babies. Not my problem, anymore at least. This blog already helped me past that problem.

Some people say they get writer's block, a sudden inability to come up with any further words. I've almost never run into that unless the project simply stopped working, and that's a structure problem, not a writer's block problem. If I've got structure resolved, and know what I'm writing toward, I can write all day every day.

Nope, my problem is I'm too wordy. I'll be told I need to turn in a thousand-word story by tomorrow, and then at the end of the day tomorrow I've got 15,000 words.

I have the damndest time writing less than 5000 words on ANYTHING.

So, of all my published works, my favorites are the ones that took the most work. The ones that tell a whole story in less than ten thousand words. That, to me, is a real kicker of an accomplishment.

Most of the people I meet that have read my short stories tell me that they loved "Rain". Honestly, if they'd seen the 25,000 word monstrosity I turned into the editor on the first go round, they wouldn't have loved it. Sure, the editor killed some of my babies, such as Lester's death scene, and several encounters that I felt were necessary to the plot. And several meandering walks through the scenery that were poetic but useless. And I hated it. But I ended up with one of the best things I've ever written, that lost more than half its length before we were done cutting and cutting and cutting away the excess rock.

Since then, I've gone through several changes, metamorphing slowly into a better writer. I've shed the requirement to be perfect, to write like my idols do, to write every thought that I think whether it relates or not, and most importantly, I've worked hard to shed the inability to self-edit without invalidation and self-criticism. I can now cut out a few pages without blinking, if I know they don't carry the forward motion of the story. And I can do this without cursing myself as inept.

At this point, the hardest thing about writing, for me, is that the work tends to get too florid and tends to wander off the beaten trail. That only works if that's the style of the story. But that's rarely the case, that you can hold interest while meandering. I've gotten away with it exceedingly rarely. Mostly, I cut and cut and cut. Like Michelangelo trying to find David in the marble, I write a large chunky rock of a story, and then I cut it down. Excellent work only happens in the second pass, in the self editing process that results in a second, third, fourth rough draft.  And you can't hate yourself for either end of the process, being too wordy, or cutting away favorites.

Of course, there's no such thing as a second, third, or fourth draft anymore REALLY, since we're digital. At some point, I say to myself, "Okay, I've cut away a third of the dead weight here. Let's see what Courtenay (my editor) thinks." And I ship it off to her. And together we polish the work until it shines, renaming each part of the process with another draft name.

Honestly, I think this might actually be the only real challenge to a writer, if they're actually writing from their own voice:

Staying brief when the word vomit wants to start.