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.