Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Lean, Mean, Writing Machine

Awhile back, I purchased a container of Brownie Bites. What harm could an occasional brownie do? The quantity consumed escalated from 1 to 2. Then it doubled to 4 of the delectable morsels per day.

A doctor appointment put an end to this madness. When I started removing my bracelet, watch, and earrings to shave off a few ounces, I knew I was in trouble. The sweet treats, combined with a lack of exercise after surgery, packed an additional ten pounds on my frame.

When I arrived home, I checked the number of calories in each brownie bite. 160 calories X 4 per day X 7 days per week = 4,480 calories per week. I didn't have the courage to calculate beyond a week. I'd have to fast more than 2 days to compensate for that many extra calories. Bye, bye brownies.

Chunky, non-productive words add weight to a novel, devotional, or article. I have difficulty paring down the number of words in a piece. When a devotional assignment insists on 150-250 words, I gulp and pray...a lot. The admonition to write tight keeps ringing in my ears.

In their Nangie 101 workshop, Angela Hunt and Nancy Rue talk about getting rid of "weasel words." Words like, "really, just, and actually" are a few words they highlighted. They suggest doing a search and replace command. Sigh. I love those words, and use them when I talk.

Now, I'm not only shedding pounds, but also words that fail to move the story forward. Hmm, I wonder how many words editors will cut from my 96,000-word novel. I sure hope there are enough left to stay in the 80,000-100,000 word range.


quietspirit said...

Shedding words is easier than shedding pounds. Words are devices we use. Pounds are a part of us.:) Seriously, a woman in my writing group advised us not to 'fall in love with' your words. Because you might have to cut them.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Quiet Spirit -

The woman in your writing group has a lot of wisdom. I heard one workshop teacher say if you've written a phrase you're particularly fond of, cut it.

Thanks for commenting.

Susan :)

Jessica Nelson said...

I LOVE this post. I'm a choco-aholic. And I'm blessed to have a very fast metabolism but lately I've been devouring chocolate like mad crazy (made homemade cookies the other day, then brownies, then pumpkin pie-eek) and guess what, this morning my shorts are a bit tight and so's my ring. Looks like it's time to cut out the chocolate and do a few squats.
I also wrote for a newspaper and had to keep my piece between 300-350 words.
Wow. That experience taught me a lot about cutting unneeded words and I used this knowledge for when I started fiction writing.
Another good thing is to not only cut the extra flab, but tone up some words.
Add a little good weight to your manuscript by muscling in some great verbs.
But that's a post for another day, which you've actually just inspired me to.
So, thanks for reminding me that I finished the brownies last night. I'm determined to make it through today without chocolate.
Wish me luck.
Oh, and let us know how your "paring down" goes. :-)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jessica -

Chocolate - what can I say? I was born craving it. It's rare that I waste calories on a non-chocolate dessert.

I'm looking forward to your post. BTW, check out my blogroll. You might find something interesting hiding there.

Susan :)

Sarah said...

Oy. Brownies are my favorite, too. Well, pretty much anything with chocolate in it.

I know what you mean about being particularly fond of certain words. If I could "just" learn not to use the word "just" so much; life would be "just" grand! :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Sarah -

I know "just" what you mean.

Susan :)

Rita Gerlach said...

Chocolate.....ah. The person that invented chocolate should get a special award in Heaven.

As to cutting words. Angela and Nancy are dead on. A few other words to cut...


Christina Tarabochia said...

What a great analogy! Actually, it makes me want to leave the computer and go find a snack ...

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi InSpire -

Welcome to my blog, and thanks for commenting. I'm convinced there will be chocolate in Heaven.

I've surrendered "suddenly,"
"truly," and "very." But "so," "also," and much??? No,
no, tell me it isn't so.

Okay, enough melodrama. I'll be a good girl and listen to teacher.

Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Christina -

Oops! I didn't mean to start a run for the chocolate stash.

It looks like I need to do a post exclusively on chocolate. Maybe the word will get around, and every writer in the blogosphere will visit here.

Susan :)

Anonymous said...

Great lead in to the point! I read some where that if you see an adverb you should shoot it. :D

I'm try to discover words that will breathe new life and action or attitude into my words - at least with my fiction writing. Sometimes I use a thesaurus to uncover new treasures - sometimes I ask a friend.

I'm also bad about writing down words or phrases that I hear in meetings or discussions - I'm sure I make people paranoid.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Kathryn -

Thanks for commenting. People are worried you're going to embarrass them when you're a writer. I try to be sensitive to others feelings, but sometimes I goof. All you can do is apologize, and learn from the experience.

I have a big, red book called, "Synonym Finder." It comes in handy when I need an alternative word. Originally, I purchased it because you can't always find a specific word in sign language, necessitating the use of a substitute.

Susan :)