Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why over writing is like overeating

Just... one... more... BITE!

Come on, we've ALL been there. We eat and eat and eat, until we feel like we're going to explode. We have to delicately lay ourselves down on the couch and unbutton our pants. We've overeaten, but man oh man... It was delicious!

Now, the problem with overeating isn't obvious right away. You might not feel comfortable until you get into some stretchy pants, but mostly, you won't have that Regret Gremlin tap your shoulder until you wake up the next morning. You feel sluggish, greasy, and you know for a fact that you aren't going out for your usual morning jog. Well, I have found that overwriting, is strangely similar.

I am a self-diagnosed over writer. I will write and write and write until I feel like I have said everything I need to say. The problem? It's too much. But, just like overeating, I don't notice it right away. I feel comfortable with the length of my "perfect" story! The dialog sounds exactly the way I imagine my MC would talk; the descriptions of the birds singing are so elaborate, I swear I can hear them just outside my window! But then when I reread my story the next day, that all too familiar tap-tap on my shoulder reminds me that the Regret Gremlin doesn't just work on "foodies".

I know overwriting happens to every writer. And just like we do when we overeat, we need to exercise! We need to "trim the fat", and admit that the problem areas need work.

Need some how-to examples?
  • Find the one word you have used 6,000 times in two paragraphs and take it out!
  • If you're writing a picture book, eliminate the elaborate descriptions if they are not absolutely necessary (aka allow room for your illustrator to work!).
  • Don't go crazy with dialog. Kids say cute things, let's face it. But using it all in your story ends up taking away from your story. Keeping dialog simple- THAT is key!
  • Find a buddy that will be honest with you- someone who won't say, "It sounds great!" when it really doesn't.
  • READ IT OUT LOUD! I can't stress this enough. If you mumble and fumble over your own words, odds are so will everyone else!
  • Much like working out in the gym, you need to go over your story a few times in a week (or more!). Get in a groove with what you've written, and get it perfected and tight.

For picture books, the goal is difficult. Your manuscript needs to be 700 words or less (preferably), with SO MUCH going on from beginning to end. It's easy to write beyond that (there has never been a time where I HAVEN'T done so!). You simply need to remember that if you're going to overwrite, you need to be willing to accept all the work you must to put in to trimming your manuscript down.

With that said, someone pass the hot wings...

I'll workout tomorrow. ;)


  1. Great post. I sometimes have the same issue... trimming the story is the hard part, especially when your 8 and 10 year old muses are reading over your shoulder telling you not to cut their favourite bit (when every bit seems to be their favourite!)

  2. This is good! Trimming the excess is not an easy thing, but it's a necessary thing. The image on this post made me think of the wonderful story writing system that Erik (This Kid Reviews Books) introduced us to today over at Diane's blog -- it uses the analogy of a hamburger! I think you'd love it.

  3. I struggle with trimming as well. Thanks for the advice Bethany!

  4. Great post! I am also an over-writer constantly struggling with trimming! It's kind of like cutting off an arm, isn't it? Ouch! :)

  5. SO TRUE! I don't think the initial over-writing is TOO horrible, though. I mean, in order to revise, tighten, and streamline a story, you have to have a story in the first place. I'm a big advocate of getting to the end of the story, even if it's trying to choke me with words and bury me in description. Once I'm there, I can dig myself out of the weeds and fix it up. Gotta start someplace!

  6. Love this post! Concise and full of great ideas. I struggle with dialog -- maybe if I don't go crazy it will work better. Thank you Bethany!

  7. Hi Bethany, when you get a chance come stop by my blog to pick up your award!!!