Hosted by the astounding, amazing, super-awesome Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh and co-hosted by Nancy Thompson, Mark Koopmans and Heather Gardner.
I’ve always been a very verbose person. I can ramble on and on, providing way more information than is required and elongating stories until the reader starts rolling their eyes. Any poignant passages or brilliant images are diluted in a pool of mediocre and entirely unnecessary prose. There were times where I exhausted even myself by writing pages upon pages and realizing I still hadn’t concluded the damned story.
So, needless to say, one of my greatest struggles as a writer has been to change this pattern. Flash fiction helped a lot by giving me only 1000 words with which to create. But the more I did it, the more that even those thousand words gave me too much room to explore details that were pointless and did nothing to serve the story, character or scene. Then the challenges started coming in with limits of only 500, 400 or even 300 words. And I struggled. To create a story in such a small space but still give it the depth I want it to contain- how does one do this?
And that is the paradox of this because the greatest writing, historically, has been that which packs the biggest punch in the smallest space. That which makes each and every word count. Those are the passages, sentences and fragments that permanently lodge themselves in the reader’s minds. Those are the ones that make history.
Some people do this through editing. They let their minds ramble, give their imaginations free reign and build a massive mound of words. (Which is the method of NaNoWriMo and why I’ve been able to cross that 50k word finish line every year.) Then they dig through and pull out the passages, images and scenes that have potential and make them pop by alternating words and exchanging details. The writing exercise book that I’ve been using- Brian Kiteley’s 3A.M. Epiphany- has been teaching me a lot about this. He says that “any time you can cut a piece of prose by 20 percent, you should cut it by 20 percent.” He expects you, as the writer, to expect more of your words.
But when you’re writing with a word limit by design it’s a different process. I find myself editing as I go along. Watching my word count climb and concluding that this idea or that detail isn’t necessary seconds after I’ve added it to the narrative. I’m pickier with the words I choose to describe things, discarding the simple and familiar for the more mysterious but decidedly juicer words. I struggle when a sentence has no gravity and ache over the passages that don’t pop.
I’ve been learning quite a lot from the poetry I’ve been writing lately. Knowing that I’ve only got a few lines to work with and that each stanza has to communicate something specific forces me to carefully select each and every word I use. And varying the lengths- from short and choppy to long and melodious- leads me to categorize and organize my words until they’re just right. I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback from the experiments I’ve shared and it’s been really helpful in reinforcing the value of brevity.
But my stories… I still struggle there. My mind still composes in huge, chunky passages that hide the bones of the story under phrases that fail to flesh them out. I chisel things down to the images, the sensations and the details that I know have to be there and struggle to make the overall narrative flow. I get stuck in the limbo between that wonderful, brilliant idea in my mind and the jumble of words on the page that don’t come close to it.
This is what I went through when composing my entry for Write Club. As I wrote, I got closer and closer to the 500 word limit and had to go back and cut out words, sentences and images that weren’t 1000% necessary and exchange them for the tiny, minute details that were. It was an agonizing process and I procrastinated doing it for almost the whole month, sending it in the afternoon of the last day of submissions. And now, of course, I wonder if it worked.
I find solace in knowing that my struggles are shared by a whole party of talented, brilliant writers and reading all of these blogs where people expose their fears, doubts and pitfalls grants me a reprieve from the nagging voice in my head spouting hurtful doubts and criticism. But I read the words of those that I see as more talented, more capable or just better equipped and see that I am not all that different. And the process that they went through to overcome their own shortcomings as writers sounds remarkably similar to the one that I am currently in.
And it gives me the courage to keep writing and keep submitting and keep hoping that even if I feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark I am still going somewhere. Following the same path that so many other wonderful writers have traveled down. Making the same discoveries of self that they themselves have uncovered. Learning and growing, in great company. And my inner critic can’t raise a candle to that.
And now, as always, I invite you to check out the other writers on the list and spread the love cause we all need it!