Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Over Writers Anonymous

Author Mark Twain
“A successful book is not made of what is in it,
but what is left out of it.” --Mark Twain

I’ve been working with my editor to ready my first novel for publication. Most of my chapters have been around nine or ten pages long. I didn’t really notice chapter length until my editor pointed it out.

Then I hit Chapter 11 –no, not financial bankruptcy. If you read my blog last week you may have guessed I am speaking of running out of words. Nope, not that either. This had to do with surplus. This week it was a surplus of words. The overuse of meaningless description.

Thirty-three pages of discourse crammed into one chapter.

I decided I suffer from a disorder prominent among emergent writers.

My name is Rebecca and I am an Over Writer.

I can see everything about the story in my mind’s eye and I want to include it all. If my character goes to the store, I feel compelled to tell my reader why she went, how she got there, what she is going to buy and who is taking care of the children while she is away. I wind up describing the store, the winters in Ohio, the date written on the calendar. Everything.  I take two pages to say, in essence:

Leaving the children behind with her frail grandmother, Becky made her way to the store over the icy roads. Her small car slid into the parking lot and came to a stop near the door of the nearly deserted supermarket. Becky prayed the shelves would not be void of the milk and medicine she needed for her family.

I am learning a new lesson in trusting my readers to read between the lines. I don’t have to tell them ever little detail. Sometimes those bits of information are necessary. Sometimes they interfere with keeping the story moving.  

Who cares if it is February 16? Do you really need to know her full grocery list? How many cars are in the parking lot? That it is 8:00AM or 8:00PM? The reader doesn’t need to be bogged down with meaningless details, only those elements that serve to move the story along.

Learn About Writing Through Reading

I am currently reading a novel based on a true story. It is a sweet account of a budding romance between a young couple a few weeks before Pearl Harbor is bombed and their brief marriage before he goes off to war and ultimately dies on the battlefield.

I appreciate some of the details the author has included to inform me about life during that era. However, I find myself skimming those details not essential to the story. I don’t need to know the layout of the stores in town. I don’t need to know the names of roads unless they hold meaning to the story. Those details may be interesting to someone who lived in that area at that time, but not to most readers.

Lesson learned. I do not want my readers tuning out. Skimming.

The Task at Hand

I returned to Chapter 11 of my book and started cutting, tightening, moving, reorganizing, and rewriting. The reworking of this chapter led to reworking Chapters 12 and 13 as well.

I am taking this lesson to my current work. I am going through my story set in Door County and trying to clean it up. I cannot guarantee I will not over write again. It is in my DNA.

I do know this: I am not alone. Maybe I need to form a support group for over writers. Over Writers Anonymous. But there really isn’t a need for that. Writing critique groups, writing coaches, and editors can help keep me in line as I continue to learn through this process of writing.

Where do you find your support?


  1. I am joining American Christian Fiction Writers. They offer online critique groups, free tutorials on writing and much more. What a great deal for $65 a year. Think about your genre. Look at national organizations available to you for online support or regional gatherings.

  2. I think we're all guilty of this at some point. I've uses a lot of back story and description that wasn't necessary and thanks to my editor, I've learned to cut back. With my current WIP, I'm attempting something new. Each scene is a chapter instead of one chapter with multiple scenes. I've heard of an author who does this (I forget his name and I've never read any of this books so I can't think of who it is).

    And for someone like me, who loves to gab, making each scene a maximum of say 4-5 pages is a challenge but it's doable. :)

    I belong to several online groups of authors, and I find all my support with these people who are filled with encouragement and knowledge about writing.

    Blessings. Renee-Ann <><

    1. Renee-Ann,
      i appreciate your openness. How does the saying go? "Admitting you have a problem is half the battle" (LOL) You are a wonderful writer. I think we all suffer from this. I praise God for wonderful editors who do not change our voice, only our excessive verbiage! Thanks for the comment.


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