Friday, February 22, 2013

The Long and Short of It

By Susan

My first draft of my first novel was over 100,000 words. For whatever compelling reason, I couldn’t stop writing it. I added subplots and additional characters and points of view. I added description and three full generations of multiple families. It was sweeping, spanning over sixty years. It was broad, but not necessarily deep. I added everything I could possibly think to include. If I was going to write a novel, I surmised, I should put everything I’ve ever known into it.

That sweeping novice attempt garnered me an agent, but no book deal. Six months of revisions, followed by a quick testing-of-the-waters submission (that we just as quickly pulled after five rejections and five amazingly similar snippets of feedback) led to my decision to embark on a complete rewrite of the story. A rewrite, I am proud to say, that I finished this week. The current product? One story-line, one time period, one generation. 88,000 succinct words.

I taught myself to reign in my storytelling. The original draft wasn’t really one book, it was a minimum of three competing and overlapping stories, all crammed into 100,000 words. This closer-to-final product became a journey of learning to write more while writing less.

I’m calling it writing short. By writing short, I’ve stretched new muscles. Over the course of this novel rewrite, I’ve also written quite a bit of poetry, a children’s story, and a myth. In my practice, I learned to tighten sentences and to pack as much punch into a scene, character, or description as possible. Writing short also means writing deeper. With fewer characters, I learned to focus and to develop the ones I was left with. The end product? It’s a much better book and, as a student of my own process, I’ve become a better writer.

I think some of my friends may have thought I was crazy for embarking on a full rewrite. Taking 100,000 words and slashing it to less than 30,000 and rebuilding it in four months' time was a daunting process. Yet I’ve learned that more isn’t necessarily better. I learned that finding the poetry inside prose is a delight. More than anything, I’ve loved learning a better way to tell a story.


  1. Susan: You should be proud of what you've done ... I am inspired by your lead, for I have been "revising" the first draft of my mega-manuscript for months, and now that I am on the final chapter, I know I have not done enough to bring the word count — and more importantly, the story — under control. All along I have suppressed the voice inside me that nagged at me to cut some of the beloved characters: there are too many, even for a family saga. It took your post to convince me. And so I will tackle what I must you and know I will end up in a better place. Good luck submitting your revised ms. Chris

  2. Chris, best of luck. It's not easy. A rewrite is something that the writer must decide on his or her own-- I don't think anyone could have talked me into or out of it until I knew for myself what needed to be done. But once I knew, it all made sense. Stick with it and don't let it overwhelm you. Let us know how it turns out. I'm rooting for you! Good luck!


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