My secret fantasy life this week is to be a travel writer slash sex blogger with an endless budget and lots of really alluring and beautiful clothes. In order to reach my goals I absolutely must publish a bestselling novel and/or have a film treatment produced into a Hollywood blockbuster. The stakes are high! Then and only then shall I have the cash flow to fulfill my dream. But in order to create these writerly gems I must learn how to TRASH THINGS. Not hotel rooms or reputations, but I must learn to throw away words. Words that I really love. Love deeply and honestly like tiny font-ridden pets. You know what I mean. You’ve written closets full of them too, and fed and clothed them and lugged them around with you in giant handbags. The truth is, these word pets are pulling your writing into the soft, warm hell of verbosity. Your manuscripts need to go on a diet. So do mine. Let’s do it together! Read through your stuff and delete, yes DELETE, at least half of the adjectives. Now, delete flamboyant descriptions that don’t drive the chapter forward. Finally, read it all again and take out the remaining fluff that you couldn’t stand to remove the first time. I bet what you are left with is something with a tidy conservation of words, something tighter and more able to defy gravity.
I am in the process of revisiting an unfinished novel I started in college. It’s a scary thing to do, drag something kicking and screaming from your past out into the light. And with the intention of forming this thing into a presentable, grammatically correct, unsentimental, mature piece of work for actual reader consumption. Talk about intimidating. I had major doubts. Writers block knocked me on my ass. Then I saw it – my task: Those late night gallon bottles of bad whiskey-fueled paragraphs must now be parsed into palatable shots of fine bourbon. Entire pages, no, entire chapters, must be DELETED. Yeah, it’s sort of like killing your youth in a way, looking back into your brain of Christmas past and judging it too florid for present day modern, sleek, grown-up existence. But DELETE I did, over and over, and suddenly the project felt light, doable, invigorated. The manuscript is about 180% better already and I’ve just begun this process. What was at first a troubling act of word violence, now seems satisfying. If I can do it, you can.
Hey, I am likely one of the most verbose writers on the planet so I know how hard this is to kill those beloved phrases. However, when I was a manuscript reader at a literary agency, I read a lot of work. I learned on that side of the lens that over-written stuff is bad. It’s that simple.Â So do yourself a favor and get trashy.
Now, here’s a thought: Do you think I would have bothered writing in college if I knew that my future self was going to trash so much of it? Probably not. So, the big footnote here is that when you do write it’s important not to chop it to bits right away. Just write a while, and realize that it’s ok if a lot of what you’re writing is going to be trashed upon a future reading. That’s how gold is found in the pan – the grit is filtered out. You can’t start with a pan full of gold.
Welcome to the “Writing Lessons from Photographers” series.Â Today’s lesson is a powerful antidote for anyone who struggles with an overactive inner critic.Â Enjoy!…
Click here to read Marla’s incredibly helpful post.