Churn and Burn

Prismatic gears from Public Domain

My fellow writer Zach Stanfield wrote “Addicted to Torment” where he discusses his struggles to produce a cohesive story.  It’s an interesting glimpse into one writer’s journey and I recommend looking at his personal struggle to get words on the page.  

Like him, I plan to confess my “writer’s flaw”.  

I am the Johnny-types-a-lot of our NAWG group.  If you measure success in words on a page alone, I am the rapid pace rabbit you’ll hound.  I churn and burn words like a binge drinker pounds back shots.  And like all those party people, I care about the quality of the words on the page about as much as they care about the brand of vodka in their drinks.  

So when we come to writers’ group and go around the circle asking “have you written anything?”  

I can say “Yeah I sat down for three hours and pushed out five thousand words, I’m a thousand words away from resolution.” or “I sat down this weekend and wrote ten thousand new words on my novel.”

The looks I get—the surprise alone—I feel like I will turn into Kanye West.  “I am a creative genius and there is no other way to word it.” 


Lol.  I do not want to debate Kanye West’s claim, but I will say my claim to creative genius carries minimal weight.  More words means I have more editing to do than my peers do.  Over half of what I write is scrapped in the second draft. 


Take my efforts in Follow Me: Tattered Veils.  I wrote an 80,000 word first draft.  The second draft is 73,000 words and about half of those words are brand new words I designed for the second draft.  Of  the original 80,000 words, readers may see what 30,000 of them (and those also needed intense edits)?  


This doesn’t count story boarding or deleted scenes. To get that 80,000 word first draft, I have about 30,000 words in scenes no one but me ever read.  I needed to write those scenes, but as the manuscript evolved, I realized they couldn’t serve the story.


I can hear some people saying “You still came out of that with a novel.”  and yes, that’s true, but I would not say the volume of words I string together are why I have the novel.  My determination, my grit, my commitment.  These are things you need to have a complete manuscript.  A willingness to try something, anything, if the manuscript isn’t working.  Looking at elements you thought your manuscript would center on and culling them when it turns out those beliefs are wrong.  You need to endure painful change for the sake of creating the best work you can.  Mass producing a million words to a page will not bring a writer closer to the glorified novel.  


I’ll go further.  Writing in quantity forces me to spend a significant portion of time reading and editing my work.  This is time I could have written other things.  Most of my writers’ group has published a short story and I have not.  One reason for this is my obsession with my novel and my inability to write the right words the first time.  Maybe if I stopped and thought more, looked at the cursor blinking on the page as Zach does, I would realize on the first draft “my novel isn‘t going in this direction and these scenes are superfluous.”  


What I’m trying to get at: all writing styles have pros and cons. Inundating myself and others with heaps of words may look impressive, but it’s more bluster than you may imagine.  


Talk to me.  What’s your writing style?  What are your writing goals?  Give me a writing confession! I would love to hear more about others’ process or their current manuscript goals.

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