Over-Writing Vs Under-Writing

(Cross-posted from the WriteClub blog)

In the January 2011 issue of ‘Writing Magazine’ (a mag I would, incidentally, recommend all writers read), Lorraine Mace discusses the fact that writers fall into two categories when it comes to writing first drafts: over-writers and under-writers. The former group end up with a first draft containing too many words; the latter end up with too few.

Over-writers end up having to murder their darlings in re-writes. Like Lorraine Mace, I am an under-writer. My first drafts are rarely more than 50,000 words. I tend to stick to the facts in the early drafts. I don’t worry myself with little things like description in the first draft. Or sub-plot.

So, serial under-writers like me have to spend several drafts fleshing out the story. It’s one reason why I don’t let anyone read my first drafts. If my first draft was a person, it would not only be naked, but have bare bones visible through the flesh – a stark and somewhat scary being really not fit to be seen in public.

Over-writers on the other hand have to go at the manuscript with a sharp object, hacking away all the excess flesh that’s dragging down the plot and making the manuscript unwieldy and unmanageable.

The problem I have with being an under-writer is that when it comes to the second and third drafts, in a desperate attempt to increase the word count, I will sometimes overcompensate by adding too much unnecessary padding (a fact I’m sure my editor can testify). The final draft has to be a careful balance – enough description to add atmosphere and flavour; not so much that the manuscript has become an unwieldy tome.

Thankfully, that’s why first drafts exist. They’re allowed to be rubbish. By the time it gets to the fifth or sixth draft, my WIP will emerge, blinking, into the light, hopefully a halfway presentable manuscript.

So over-writer or under-writer? Which are you?

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1 comment so far

  1. ralfast on

    Underwriter, which can be a pain when it comes to word counts.


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