My Struggle with Word Vomit

This is a less-than-attractive title,

but those are the best kind, right??  But seriously, I think that it’s very apt for the problem I have been encountering more and more as I get further on in my story.  The fact is, sometimes I just write too damn much, and I just can’t figure out how to stop!!

I’ve always known I had this issue.  I used to get told time and again back in elementary school that when the teacher asked for a one-page book report, that didn’t mean five pages.  Freshman year of high school we were supposed to write a five-to-ten page story about a super hero character.  I wrote twenty pages, and probably could have kept going if I hadn’t run into the due date.  So the fact is that, where I’m concerned, why write fifty words when you could write ten thousand and fifty?  (Needless to say I’m terrible at flash fiction.)

But we live in a world that appreciates concise language in our books.  We want to know whats happening right away.  That isn’t to say that we don’t like complicated words sometimes, or that you can’t describe things, but it is no longer the age of Charles Dickens writing at a penny a word to feed his family, and therefore penning long-winded monstrosities like “Tale of Two Cities.”  (Easily my least favorite book of all time, perhaps only beaten by “Moby Dick.”)  And I understand!  I don’t like to read those either!  The insane amounts of description in Tolkien’s books were a major deterrent to me for years.  (Though fantasy books by design tend to run into this problem more often, because of the world-building involved.)  So why would I do it myself?

The fact is I just can’t help it.  Especially when I write in first person, as I’m doing for “Life of Gaia,” it just seems imperative to word-vomit every last thing my character is thinking at any given moment.  To give her thoughts on what has happened.  What she thinks will happen.  How it effects her now.  How she’s feeling about the salmon she had for lunch.  It’s like every barrier dissolves, and I write EVERY. LAST. THING.  Characters have to do or think SOMETHING in between every line of dialogue.  And it is ruining my book!

You might think the fact that I can write this post must be a step in the direction of recovery, but I’m not so sure.  Right now I can honestly say that probably a good 50% of my revisions for LoG will simply be trimming.  Cut cut cut, snip snip snip.  And that thought is painful.  Am I so cocky that I think every sentence out of my brain is such gold that I can’t bear to part with any of them?  I hope that’s not it, because that just sounds so pretentious.   But I guess I write out what I know my character is thinking and feeling, and things that I think are important.  But everything CAN’T be important.  (Right???)  So picking and choosing?  Madness.

This was sort of highlighted at one of the Creative Writer meetings I attended when it was pointed out that I did a LOT of describing in the chapter where Gaia first goes to the city.  “Do we really need to know all about these streets?” someone asked me honestly.  “Or all of this about the weapons shops and stuff?  To be honest, I had already decided in my mind what this place looked like within a few sentences, and after that the rest was something I would just skip over.”

Our brains are pretty amazing things.  While I’m sure there are some people out there who need an author to hand-hold them with every setting and character, most people’s imaginations will fill in the blanks with your basic descriptions as support beams.  I might have my own, detailed, intricately-planned idea of what each setting looks like, but does that really matter?  No.  Because if I say a few well-chosen aspects that stand out, my readers will take up the torch and fill in the rest for themselves.  And that’s half the fun of reading.  (Even if it kind of hurts to hear.)

(On a random note, I went back and realized that nowhere did I describe one of my main characters, LOLOL.  Nowhere.  There’s no physical description of her whatsoever.  Funny to think that I can have this problem and STILL manage to miss something so important, but there you go.  I have made a note to address this first when I do revisions.)

Sorry ‘of’ is cut off. Go home meme caption creator, you’re drunk.

(I have a band-aid on my finger and keep having to re-type everything.  Dx BAH.)

So… I guess I’m just looking for some support, ha ha.  Does anyone else find themselves word-vomiting all over when they write?  Or do you actually write too LITTLE and have to go back and add some description?  (A problem I could never imagine, personally.)  Do you have any suggestions for me, ways to weed out the unnecessary when I’m writing or revising?  Thoughts are always nice!



10 thoughts on “My Struggle with Word Vomit

  1. Gosh that’s a lot of questions! Okay, first of all, don’t worry about word vomit, because the great part is you can always go back and cut it out. My theory when writing the first draft is just WRITE. Screw concise writing and all those other so-called writing virtues. Remember how I had to cut Imminent Danger by like 30%? I think I only actually cut one scene — everything else was just tightening, turning the three-sentence-long thought of a character into one sentence, etc. I don’t remember where I was going with this. Moving on.

    So yes, I word vomit. I’m try not to, but judging by the amount of red I get back from my mother when I give her manuscripts, I’m clearly not succeeding. 😀 Um … I do tend to underdescribe important concepts. For example, in the first draft of Imminent Danger, the lamri just did whatever the heck it wanted, and I made no attempt whatsoever to explain how or why. It still does do mostly whatever it wants, but at least I’ve now set out a few ground rules. Possibly.

    Um … weeding out unnecessary words? Again, save it for the editing stage. Don’t even worry about it right now. If you self-edit yourself as you go, you might be cutting out sentences that you haven’t even written yet — and if you don’t write it down, how will you know whether or not it’s awesome?

    • Oh wow, you mean most of that huge cut that you made was just little stuff? Phew. I always forget that you went through that whole period of trying to make it 100k or less. I can’t even imagine where all of that would have gone, reading the story now–but there you go! The miracle of good editing in action. 🙂 Congratulations!
      xDD Don’t worry. I have run into snags as well, or complications in my story, or just plan changed my mind about something, but make no effort to fix it right then. I make a little note and go, “Future me can worry about this later. Neener-neener!” And I’m sure that future-me will curse past-me with a vengeance. This is so confusing right now.
      That’s a good point I guess. 🙂 I just like to worry, I suppose. xD Maybe it won’t be so bad that my story is a good third larger than I envisioned it, because I will end up cutting that much in editing! (With some help.)
      Also, random, but at my Writer Club meeting last night, I totally had the best opportunity to hawk your book. =D Someone said something about wanting to read some sci-fi, and I was like, I KNOW SOMEONE WHO PUBLISHED A SCIFI BOOK HERE IS THE TITLE GO GO GO!!!
      So you’re welcome. 🙂 I’m spreadin’ the word~

  2. Michelle is spot on – don’t fret about getting everything out onto the page / screen. You can decide if it’s unnecessary late on, once you have a complete story. I used to be guilt of over-describing a character’s actions (His fingers uncurled and his arm extended as he reached towards the book) to the point where a beta reader told me that ‘it was like reading stage directions’. 😀
    I think I’m cured of that now, but I also forget to describe my characters’ physical attributes sometimes. I have such a clear picture in my mind that my Muse says ‘just skip it’. Silly Muse. Now I try to weave it into the narrative as a consequence (she was short, so she couldn’t see over the counter, or her dark hair continually drifted across into her eyes…and so on).
    But as you so rightly said, the reader’s imagination will fill in the details as they go. It worked when tales were told around a blazing fire – so why not now? 🙂

    • Thank you, new face! 🙂 I just couldn’t believe it when I realized I had forgotten to describe that one character. xD But I guess it made more sense after I thought about it because, like you said, she was there in my mind–I just forgot to translate that to the page!
      That DOES seem like stage directions! (I’m taking a play script-writing class at the moment, as a matter of fact.) But yes–I guess I will listen to everyone and just try not to let it bother me. I guess I’m just afraid of not saying enough…? Which seems silly, but there’s my brain for you. xD Thanks for the comment! :))

  3. I think it’s a lot better to NOT describe a main character than to be too obvious or cliché about doing so. I don’t think I even mention that my main character has ponytail (he has a ponytail, not long hair; I can’t even *imagine* him with his hair down) until chapter 5. One of the benefits to illustrating your own book, of course, is knowing that the illustrations will carry a lot of the descriptive weight. 1000 words, and all that. I’m a big supporter of the word vomit method of writing, but for me that usually means not editing for style as I go and *skipping* whole pieces of the story, instead of filling every little bit in. In my last round of revision, I bumped my wordcount up from 50k to 60k. I added several whole scenes, and a lot of characterization and detail. I’m not sure if all my books will work like that, though. For Wanderlust, I started with the 26k novella I wrote in high school. It’s been a challenge to massage and shape it into a real live novel-length story, since it didn’t quite start out that way.

    • Oh well yes, cliche must be avoided at any cost. xD But it just seemed so stupid, that I would forget to describe her when I had no problem describing anything else to death.
      (And yeah, you have your pictures, so there. 😛 A lot easier for people to know how you intended your characters to look!)
      Wow. I can’t imagine skipping things. I usually put at least SOMETHING. Not that I can speak to this as like, a tried-and-true method either, considering this is the furthest I’ve gotten in the whole process. xD But I sometimes think it would be easier to get to add things in the editing stage than what I’ll be doing, which is cutting and trimming. (And I will hem and haw over every change, no doubt.) Aw, baby Wanderlust. 🙂 So cute~ I wish I’d written so much of anything back in high school! I was still more obsessed with the art stuff then… Well, getting more into the writing my senior year. But mostly writing tournaments, nothing useful.

      • Oh, there are baby Wanderlust illustrations too… they’re pretty terrible! Maybe I should post some on the blog sometime :-p And I guess I usually put something in when I skip scenes, but it’s often more writing instructions than anything in the narrative voice, i.e. “And then THIS happens and bla bla, make epic sounding, etc.” and then I continue with the piece of narrative that comes after. Everyone works a little differently, though, and I do think cutting is easier, although the editing process for me… it’s no so much cutting or adding. It’s taking whole paragraphs and re-forging them, changing all the “meh” words out for words that shine a little more, for words that sparkle. And in this last draft, that meant getting longer. But don’t worry about it too much yet. Finish your draft first so you’ll have something to work with!

      • True dat! Although actually, come to think of it, I think that’s how my friend Amanda writes. It drives me crazy sometimes when I’m trying to read her work! Because I’ll be going along, and then there will be bits of ‘include car description here’ or ‘and then a scene between A and B’. And I’m like, dang it, I wanted to read that!! But I guess that means that you’re not alone, right? xD

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