A Plague of Words
One of the first comments I received from the ERWA mailing list on a piece of my erotic work was that my voice was strong, but somewhat over-written. I was genuinely surprised by this because in all of the writing classes and workshops I’ve taken, I’d somehow never heard that term before. Was my meaning not clear? Was my first concern. No, the commentators assured me, it is, it’s just bogged down in extra words that slow down the pacing and flow of a sentence (and, of course, add extra words, something I struggled with not long after as I tried to get a draft for an anthology submission under the required word limit). I believed them, of course, but I was having trouble “seeing” the over-writing in my work in order to correct it.
Luckily, one of the patrons of the list, the illustrious and incorrigible Daddy X, came to my rescue by sending me a list of words that are often over-used (a near-identical list that also includes some cliche phrases can be found on the Write Divas blog). It’s not that these words and phrases should never be used, it’s that they are often unnecessary at best and slow down or weaken their sentences at worst. As an exercise, I started going through some of my shorter works and doing searches for every instance of every word and critically considering A) whether I could delete the word, or, even better, 2) whether there was a more interesting way of wording that sentence to avoid the problem altogether. It was amazingly illustrative. I feel like I made some significant advances in training my eye almost immediately.
Today, Remittance Girl has an excellent post on the ERWA Blog that continues this discussion of over-writing, taking it beyond simple word usage to phrasing and style, with a specific discussion of how over-writing relates to erotica. She also has some interesting things to say in defense of poetry and how poetic thinking can both tighten up and deepen your writing. I am not much of a poetry person myself (I did my poetry report in high school on Robert Burns purely so I would have an excuse to read “Brave Johnny Lad, Cock Up Your Beaver” out-loud in class) but her comments might help change my opinion.
In any event, I am always excited to find resources like these to help me mature as a writer. The practice of writing is exactly that, a practice. In other words, something we should always look to improve upon. Most importantly, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up when we make some of the same mistakes, since identifying those mistakes in the first place is the most important step in the first place.