Monday, January 27, 2014

Frugal Writing

Post by Jenny

January is winding down, and I’m never sorry to see it go. The snow and long dark nights that are charming at Christmas start to wear thin. After the excesses of the holidays, January so often becomes a month to pare down and cut back. The month to get back on the diet, get back on the budget, spend less time with Instagram/HGTV/Idol…whatever your guilty pleasure.

More guilt. Less pleasure. That’s January.

But writers shouldn’t cut back in January, right? We should write write write, and the more words the better. After all, words are free and they don’t have calories. They can banish the January blahs and give us something to do besides forage in the pantry. Why not pile them on like toppings at TCBY?

For a first draft, I say amen to that. Get those words down and tell them to bring all their friends and casual acquaintances. If you’re past the first draft, however, and it’s time to start cutting, a January frugality can help. When I’m out shopping and one of those post-holiday clearance tags catches my eye, which happens approximately every seven seconds, I stop and ask of the item in question: Is it necessary? Will it improve my life? Is it my style? Is it a good fit?

Likewise, when I turn an icy editorial eye to my WIP, I try to ask myself very directly: is this scene/word/character necessary? Does it improve my story? If I answer no, it’s time to snip. This is a lot easier to do with the junk words, the dime-a-dozens, the ones I knew I didn't need in the first place. Just, well, probably, usually, all those adjectives and adverbs…. I’m sure you have your own list.

It’s harder to cut the beautiful words whose only sin is being there. But I’ve learned that word count really is like a budget.  Good writing is about getting the most bang for your buck. When I read something that wows me, I’m not thinking about all the words that aren’t there. I’m appreciating how masterfully the author spent his or her word budget. 

The great thing is that if we cut something out and really miss it, we can add it back in. Not so with those jeans I passed up. When I went back the next day, sure enough, they were gone.

What helps you be frugal with your writing?


Anonymous said...

I have a tendency to be, if anything, TOO frugal with my writing. I can start cutting until I end up back at a blank page. I think of excess words as weeds in a garden -- they have to be pulled to let your flowers blossom fully.

And more guilt? Less pleasure? Nonsense! I don't believe in doing that in January or any other month of the year. Maybe less indulgence, but less guilt and more pleasure is a great prescription every day.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I'm a tight writer during that first draft, so I often have to flesh things out instead of cutting them out when I do my revisions. I'd rather it be the other way around.

Anonymous said...

I've never thought about what helps me be frugal in my writing, and I really couldn't say. Thank you for an interesting post, though.

Sarah Sullivan said...

This is an interesting post to me because lately I have been acutely aware of writers who overwrite. They make there point in one finely crafted sentence and then keep making it again and again, sometimes several times in one paragraph until I'm saying out loud "I get it already!" The problem for me is that now I am so sensitive to overwriting that I often, like Susan, end up with a blank page. It's a fine balance isn't it?

Sarah Reichert said...

Excellent post! I'm so guilty of this I had to look around and see if you'd been reading my work. A frugal eye to your work makes it more powerful and concentrated. Thank you for the post!

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