On a good day, the manuscript flows from my fingers and appears in some nice format on the screen. The problem arises when I return to those good words to edit out the extraneous stuff and achieve a level of compression that succinctly creates the images I want, the scenes I want and the action I want. For the most part, the unwanted expansion happens in dialogue, primarily because conversation, real conversation between consenting adults, includes a lot of words that are not necessary. Another way to say this is that we don’t speak the way we write, and we shouldn’t write the way we speak. Now, that doesn’t mean that dialogue on the page needs to be so terse that we loose meaning. Rather, it means that written language does not need the recapping and repeating that occurs in lively conversation.
I’ve heard a few learned folks at the lectern speak in the concise way we should write and it’s a pleasure to listen to them. It’s also necessary to pay strict attention because there are few if any repetitions.
One of the values of a good critique group is there ability to identify overwriting. It would be wonderful if we all saw this in our own writing, but it seems to have an invisibility quality when we read our own work. However once found, it suddenly stands out as the wasted ink that it truly is.
It is possible, I believe, to catch much of this overwriting ones self. It requires concentration and memory. Concentration is necessary to carefully discern the meaning of each sentence and memory is necessary to compare what you are saying with what you have said. As simple as this sounds, it’s quite difficult in practice. I’m working on it, and I hope you are, too.
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