I got an abrupt and well needed awakening two weeks ago. I’ve joined a writing critique group near where I live now, and the group has been sharing pieces of novels in various stages of completion. So far I’ve shared the first two chapters of Wraith of Talera, my work in progress. After the first chapter, I got one comment something along the lines of: “Well, it’s a little wordy. There are a lot of “To be” verbs in it.”
Although I didn’t say a thing to defend myself during the critique session, which is exactly as it should be, my inner thoughts were not as sanguine. I thought to myself, “Wordy! I honed my chops on short stories, and I still write flash fiction where every single word counts, and I know good and well I’m not…wordy.”
News flash to Fortress Gramlich. I was wordy. I sat down that evening to go over the manuscript and a gradual and appalling silence fell over my thoughts. I shortened and tightened a sentence or two, recast a few more, and suddenly I began to see wordiness everywhere. What the hell had happened? The writing wasn’t tight at all. Oh, there was an occasional nice sentence, but I’d let those blind me to the general weakness in many others. I started a systematic reworking of the whole thing. I’d been at page 53, but by the time I finished weeding out material I was back at the 49 page mark. Man! Four pages of fat in a 53 page manuscript? When I shared chapter 2 with the group, a reworked chapter 2, the same person said: “Yes, whatever was wrong in chapter 1 you corrected here. It’s much tighter.”
Somewhere along the line I’d let bad habits creep back in. I imagine part of it is due to a fairly long layoff in writing fiction. Part of it might even be due to blogging, where I tend to use a very free flowing approach. Ultimately, though, it was laziness on my part. Not physical laziness as much as mental laziness. I wasn’t “thinking” enough about the material.
It’s disheartening in a way to realize that you can “lose it” if you don’t “use it.” It would be nice to reach a certain skill level and never have to worry about backsliding. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. At least not for me. But it's also “heartening” to know that you can recover, that a misstep can be caught and corrected. I know now, and I appreciate the new group pointing it out, that I have to stay vigilant, even ruthless, with my own writing. Laziness is way too easy a trap to fall into, but it is a trap with an exit.