As writers we can all slip into overwriting if we’re not careful. We might not even recognize when we throw down fancy words or shove superfluous descriptions into our prose. It sneaks up on us. Most likely, we overwrite when we exit the zone. We’re most vulnerable to overwriting when we have a word count in our heads that we must meet. It’s okay to have goals. It’s good actually and we all are guilty of overwriting at some point or another.
But here are some key identifiers to help you know when you’re beginning to let the quicksand of overwriting pull you and your novel under. I’ve also included some ways out—ropes to bring you back to solid ground.
The Thesaurus is Your New Best Friend
Don’t get me wrong, I love the thesaurus. I’ve even been known to read it on slow days or when I simply want to get my brain cogs turning again. However, if you are flipping the pages or clicking on Thesaurus sites every five minutes, I’m willing to bet you will discover overwriting when it’s time to edit. I’m all about finding the strongest word to exude a point, but I’m also a fan of getting the scene down with as few interruptions as possible during the first draft. Save the thesaurus for edit days.
Solution: Put any word down. The first one that comes to mind. Allow for weakness. Tell yourself it can be changed later. And don’t let the thesaurus tempt you to interrupt the flow.
Taking the Jaws of Life to a Scene
You haven’t quite figured out what should happen with a particular character or plot point, but you force it anyway. This isn’t just about throwing a word on the page, it’s about prying out something that’s a bloody mess and calling it a scene.
Solution: Take the necessary time to allow a scene to organically unravel in your mind. Take notes during the writing process. Be mindful when something feels forced and make a note on your manuscript so that you’ll be sure to change it later.
Turning into a Chameleon
You overwrite when you turn into an author chameleon. When you begin adopting the language of the book you’re currently reading you are inadvertently changing your author colors—and in turn changing the voice of the book. You are essentially losing your voice.
Solution: Glean from excellent writing. Appreciate it. Notice what is done well. But then imbue those lessons into your own rhythm. Keep your color by gaining confidence in your own voice.
Alice in Wonderland Mentality
You become Alice when you lose your focus and dull down your main character. Your MC gets watered down and is ultimately at risk of having her head chopped off all together (losing face).
Solution: Frequently review your main character’s internal and external goals. Reflect upon who your characters are, what they’ve been through, who they want to become, and what the story you’re writing about them would mean if they were to read it.
Skipping Down Rabbit Trails
Distracted by the beautiful rainbow. No, the waterfall. No, the scattering herd of deer…you completely lose sight of where you were headed with your novel. And you end up throwing down a bunch of needless bread crumbs in hopes to find your way back. You’ve entered the land of Plot Confusion and stop short at the sign that reads: Beware of Overwriting.
Solution: One of the best pieces of advice I read that helps keeps my plots in check is to create a back cover brief synopsis before you even begin to write a single word. It’s a structured way to maintain focus and to ensure your plot is moving in a sensible direction. It provides wonderful accountability. That way you can leave the breadcrumbs at home. There are signposts on the trees. You’re golden.