Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Insecure Writer's Support Group for July

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 this is largely why this is my 500th blog post (which I officially celebrated yesterday).  Because I’m still writing.  Because I’m still learning.  Because this great company that I’m in sustains me when my inner critic launches yet another attack on my fragile progress.  Because, in short, you guys rock.  So thank you, again. 

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!

14 comments:

  1. Even I can be quite verbose, but I am slowly cutting out the extra words.

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  2. That's an interesting way to learn to compact words and make them count. I think that would be a great exercise for any writer to write shorter stories with a set word count.
    Congratulations again on hitting five hundred posts!

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    1. Thanks again, Alex! And I love this writing excercise book- the longest word count he gives you is 600, most are 300-400. They're really intriguing ideas and it's a challenge every time to convey them within the word limit the excercise demands.

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  3. It was the fear of overdoing that had me underdoing for a long time. Word count restrictions (or minimums) help a lot. I was a minimalist and it was having to write short stories of a certain length that helped me add necessary details to my writing (even though I cheated a wee bit by using courier font.)

    It's so great that you took it upon yourself to challenge yourself and work though your weak areas. That's exactly the skill writers need to have to become great: seeing a problem and taking the necessary steps to make it better. ^_^

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  4. I'm a lot like you Beverly, I get really long winded and waste words. It's why I joined the RFW Romantic Friday Writers, to challenge myself. Also, WOW, they host quarterly flash fiction challenges of 750 words. If you aren't submitting there you should. I love flash fiction and wish all my writing were concise, but I still struggle regardless of the lessons learned in writing flash fiction. It's almost like I've bottled it up to challenge myself and then write a book to let it all go! :) Silly, I know!

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  5. I always love reading reflections like this, because I have almost the opposite problem -- I narrate so briefly that people can lose the thread (which you've commented on from time to time, and thank you for that). Sure, some things can and should be cut, but other things need expanding and shoring up, usually.

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  6. Congrats on 500!!

    I've never written flash fiction but I can see how it would be a great exercise in learning how to make every word count.

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  7. Congrats on reaching 500 posts!! I'm plagued with the opposite problem. Being accustomed to writing flash with word limits below 250, I have trouble expanding the word count of my novel. In fact, I treat each chapter of my novel as a flash. It's going to be a loooong process or a very short book:) Each word you write makes you a better storyteller, whether you keep it in the final piece or not, it's the process of creating that counts:)

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  8. Congratulations on your 500th post-- that is quite the accomplishment. And yes, I have to remind myself to keep writing, keep trying and keep getting the rejections because eventually the persistence will pay off. It's good to know we're not alone in this process, isn't it?

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  9. Aloha:)

    I think it's like everything in life - the more practice, the better the result.

    I, too, suffer from verbal vomiting, but ever since I worked as a beat reporter I've learnt (somewhat) to shaddup and let the power of the words do the talking:)

    PS... I *LOVE* flash fiction, especially the 100-word mini competitions put on by Janet Reid... try one of those sometimes :)

    PSS: Wow, and super CONGRATS on making 500 posts - that's truly a milestone :)

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  10. I'm the opposite.
    For a long time I wrote lots of flash fiction, so I struggle to add details when writing.
    I've never worked with a creative writing exercise book before. I'm off to check out that exercise book. Thanks for the link.
    Writer In Transit

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  11. Kiteley's book is fantastic! I think what he says about cutting words is so true.

    Congrats on your 500th post. ☺

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  12. I tend to have the opposite problem--my early drafts are very 'bare bones' and I have to go back and add in details to make the scenes 3-dimensional.

    Gotta love the unique strategies we use to get the words on the page! :)

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  13. That's how I began - writing stories way too long because of all the unnecessary stuff. My first two fiction book reflect that. By the third, I'd learned better how to compact.

    Congrats on 500 posts, too!

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Thank you for your comment! I will love it and hug it and pet it and call it George. Or, you know, just read and reply to it. But still- you rock!