Long-Winded

I have a confession to make.  I’m long-winded, as in, verbose.

What?  You noticed that already?  I don’t know how…

It’s always been this way.  I don’t remember a single teacher in elementary through high school saying, “Now kids, make sure your story/essay is less than a page.”  Instead they always said, “Make sure it’s at least a page”, with the specification that the font, if typed, couldn’t be larger than 12 pt. and by the way, tab is definitely not a space key.  For other kids, writing was a chore; I woke up an extra hour before school and tossed off four pages of something that fit the requirements.

In fifth grade my teacher told us to write a fantasy story of at least five pages due in three weeks, and I started my first novel. Strangely, my teacher thought it was fine when I announced this plan, and as a result I handwrote my first 56 pages in approximately a week or less (although I never finished), and had about a hundred when I turned it in.  As a freshman, my teacher demanded that we rewrite the ending to Romeo and Juliet, in any style we held dear at a minimal 2 pages.  I handed in 20 pages of poetic verse and received no objections.  In all this time, it never occurred to me that being brief and concise might be something to strive for.

My college professors made it quite clear that there was a cap on space, because they had no desire to increase the hours spent grading, but alas, most of those requirements were for papers, not essays or fiction.  I wrote them, dutifully, and perhaps prior planning for paragraph layout and citations kept me in the proper page length naturally, but I still never learned to be brief, not when it came to anything “fiction”.

Many people blanch at novels; I shudder at the thought of even trying to write a short story.  It’s hard enough to keep that first novel between 80,000 and 120,000 words.  At last word count, I was at about 51,000 words, and from my outline estimate, I’m only a little over a third of the way through.

My comments are long, my blog posts are long, my stories, and usually my poems, are long.  Only a few days ago, after typing a comment and hitting the post button, I recoiled in horror at its length.  I know the people behind the blogs I follow, no matter how kind they’ve been about it, do not need to wake up to an essay in their comment section, just as I know that my followers have other blogs to read and posts of their own to write.

This is the point where public promises come in, because clearly my efforts to contain my wordiness privately aren’t working.  I’ve been trying for at least a year now, and I’d bet no one could tell that I was trying.

Disturbing fact of the week: it could have been far worse.

I hereby promise to write shorter blog posts, comprising no more than 600 words.  We’ll call those posts bite-sized.  I’ll get to tackling my comma obsession, other punctuation issues, and convoluted sentence structures sometime in the near future, I hope.

You’re welcome.

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9 thoughts on “Long-Winded

  1. I’ve struggled with how long my posts are. I write about 1,000 words. It was an arbitrary decision, but it works for me. I don’t really care if the posts are too long for people. I sometimes write shorter, but I don’t cut myself off if I’ve got more to say.
    I also write a newspaper column. I’m supposed to keep it to 300-500 words. I almost always go to 500. I post the columns on my blog. Recently, someone commented that they thought the “post” was too short, that they wanted to hear more from me. When they realized it was my column, they let me off the hook.
    So, don’t shorten what you’ve got to say if you’ve got more to say just to spare someone else.
    I keep telling myself I’m going to write a novel. I’ve got a lot of pretty good starts; you’ve got 51,000 words. Have you read the Voyager novels? They are long, too, but I love them.

    • I wondered to myself why the newspaper column was shorter than your blog posts. I ought to have guessed, but never thought of it. I personally think they ought to give you more words because I’m sure you’d make excellent use of them to flesh out and support your opinions, but I’m sure they have their reasons for limiting space.

      I would agree that sometimes one has to use more words to complete a thought; it’s more that I never learned to pare my thoughts down, to get to the guts of them and ask myself if certain details are really relevant, even in normal conversation. I want to be capable of limiting myself, because every time one of my posts, comments, or stories flourishes, weed-like, and takes over the carefully tended garden I’d like to see, I wince. I’m trying to spare myself as well. Being long-winded has its perks, but when it gets out of control, I think I want to be able to spare everyone, including myself. I want to stop myself from rambling without purpose, to keep the weeds from obliterating what I really want to harvest.

      Don’t worry; it was nothing you said. I’ve been thinking this for a long time, but when I saw that comment display on the page my jaw dropped, and I thought, “Oh, dear…I’ve done it again. My comment is longer than the post itself.” You’ve been wonderful about it, and I’m sure I’ll have a few more slip ups in my excitement before I learn to police myself better.

      I’ve never read the Voyager novels, but I’ll look them up. Some of the best books are, well, epic. If I didn’t love so many of them, I might have realized I can be a bit overzealous earlier.

  2. “I shudder at the thought of even trying to write a short story.” 😀 My current obsession is 123K, down from 126. I completed two short story exercises for this reason. One is 12,000 words. The other is written in journal entries and text messages–which I found to be a good method for staying brief. I read somewhere recently (but I can’t find it at the moment) something to the effect that within every great novel is a better smaller version just waiting to be freed. I’m with jmlindy, though; you should write what you need to write. But, hey, challenges are good.

    • I think the size on the novel, or whether it morphs into an entire series, should depend on the story itself. Agents and editors probably have their own criteria, although I generally hear that a first novel should try to stay in a certain range. With popularity, an author theoretically can get away with wielding their pen a bit longer.

      I suppose what really bothers me is that when I was writing as a kid I said foolish things like “I don’t need an outline, or research, editing, or rules,” and as I’ve gotten older and realized that I wanted to be satisfied, maybe even proud of the novels I wrote, I’ve realized how many things I can’t do, or could do better. There’s that perfectionism thing again. Perfectionism chokes back the wordiness and creates writer’s block in spades. I suppose what I should really focus on is rambling, and then cleaning up. Now there’s a thought.

      Wait a minute, you mean normal people don’t write journal entries ten pages long? 🙂 Also, I think texting is antithetical to my DNA. I’m impressed, actually; normally when I receive a text I have to hop onto my computer and type in all the acronyms to figure out what my friend just said. Sigh…

  3. I’ve tended towards long-windedness myself, though I’m improving. I, too, made a committment on my blog not too long ago to keep my posts between 300-700 words. So far so good, and I suspect my readers prefer it, too. 🙂 That being said, it appears you are well-suited to cranking out a novel!

  4. I think I have the opposite problem. I tend to be a little bare bones and have to go back and flesh out some details. I think it may be because I like telling the story more than the actual writing??? I don’t know. I am definitely a rhythm and pace sort of writer. When I read what I’ve written, I am looking for a certain tempo and if I don’t feel it, I go back and add or subtract from the narrative. Is that weird? I’m totally digging your post by the way.

    • I don’t think it’s weird to aspire to rhythm and pace, in fact part of my problem is that my rhythm and pace tends to be long. It still feels strange to force brevity; that’s not how I write, and yet I can’t deny that there are moments when I probably drone on. Perhaps it’s the hubris of the writer, but I feel as if every word is important. How do I cut it down without destroying flow and (gulp) potentially necessary information? Maybe if I practice what I’ve never practiced, being more concise will come easier.

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