Personal Writing Challenge: reduction

One of the things that has been hampering my creativity is that I am very aware of what box my mind has filed a story into.  I think about the word count, or the guidelines of a particular publisher that I want to sell a story to.  Knowing these things aren’t bad.  It is obsessing about them while I am writing that is causing me problems.  For example, I have written flash stories, less than 1000 words, that just didn’t work because I was forcing the word count downwards as I was writing. These attempts left me with stories that were choppy and empty feeling. I have since rewritten them and they are now over 2000 words each, which is probably the length they should have been in the first place.

I have been playing with an idea for a flash story in my mind for some time now. One of the blog entries I did a good while back expressed some of the frustration I had with my Virtual Privacy Network connection, or VPN. That blog entry gets at least one hit every day from people searching for explanations about their own VPN connection failures. This story idea about a VPN problems just popped into my head, and I wrote down a few notes.

I decided that this was the next story I was going to work on since I just finished a normal length short story. I made a conscious decision that I was not going to revise already written sections until the entire thing was complete. Two of the stories that I think are my best so far, “All That Glitters”, and “Becoming Cottontail” were written this way. With “All That Glitters” the resulting word count landed right near 1000 words, and “Becoming Cottontail” was much less than that. Both of them I only edited for clarity, sentence structure issues, etc. With the story I wrote yesterday I figured that I would break 1000 words easily, but I also felt it was going to be under 2000 words. I figured it would be a chance for me to see how well I can take a work and reduce it, distill it, or otherwise carefully revise it, in order to make it a more compact story.

I ended up with about 1400 words. So my writing challenge is to cut about 400 words, about 2/7ths of the prose, without impacting the flow or voice or character or plot of the story. I think I can do it. I’ll post my success or failure in a comment in a day or two.

But the main reason I am posting this before I even begin the editing part is because I realized just how freeing not worrying about editing can be, when writing the first draft. I have read several other authors’ comments about this, and really did not think it was all that important. Boy was I wrong. This story just flowed, and I think it is very good. Not backing up constantly (I did do some simple edits while my brain was churning on what words to type next) allowed me to build a rhythm of sorts. I think I am going to like this free wheeling first draft thing. I just hope my reduction challenge works. I know that I will not be trying to reduce every first draft I write, but I will be revising and editing. It is in those areas where I need to work on this writing craft, and I am afraid that I will not have the same enthusiasm to polish up a first draft as I have had when I edit as I go.

But I have to give it a try. I wrote 1400 words yesterday, and it was a heck of a lot of fun! I want more fun!

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4 Responses

  1. The first edit reduced the word count by about 325 words. Not bad at all. I got rid of some verbiage and two small sidetracks that did not add to the thread of the story.
    I have started on the polishing edit. During this one I will see if I can get rid of 75 more words. I should be able to tighten a few sentences. The voice is casual, so I can reduce words to contractions without it feeling like I’m cheating.
    I really need to get this done today and sent off. Other writing tasks await!

  2. That’s the astounding, beautiful part of writing; that when it goes as it should, it is so terribly, insanely *fun*. The first time I wrote a story I ran to my writing friends afterward and accused them of keeping this enormous secret from me. You know — the part about the fun.

    I’m definitely a free-wheeling first drafter.

  3. Thanks for stopping by Camille!

    I know what you mean. Writing is fun, but this free-wheeling first draft thing is like a sugar high.

    … And for those following along with the challenge …
    Success! I was able to easily pluck out another 85 words and have submitted it to my favorite flash market. Now, we see if the editors like it!

  4. Hey, free-wheeling first drafts are my bread and butter. I just write, and write and write and write. Get those ideas down while they are still there. Write those “might be too high-falutin’ and literary” sentences withouth really worrying whether they’ll remain or not. Then edit edit edit edit edit cut cut cut cut cut.

    Keep at it, Deven.

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