The Inefficient Writer

Posted: July 25, 2011 in Writing

There needs to be a new writing contest: who is the slowest, most inefficient writer?

Lainie Gallagher.

I would win, hands down! I have been working on a new story — which I LOVE, by the way — about two really cool people and how God is using them for their good and His glory, even in painful ways. It’s going great, and I’ve been spending time with it every day for three whole days! So far, I have written a sum total of 8 pages. That’s 2,345 words, for those of you who can actually make sense of it when someone tells you how many words there are. Word count means nothing in my brain, so that number seems enormously satisfying to me, like I have really accomplished a lot! Too bad I understand what 8 pages means…

What I think my problem is: I’m an over-editor. I have this problem in my daily life as well. A quick email or comment on Facebook, and I’ll re-read it 100 times before I send it. I will even read it again once it’s sent (at least twice), just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I’m obsessed with making sure my writing is clear and error-free, so I think it takes me 5 times longer than any normal writer just to get a paragraph out of my head the way I want it. Add to this gross grammar obsession the fact that I actually want to produce something that’s pleasing to read, and not merely accurate, and it takes even longer. Sheesh.

Anyway, I’m still quite happy with my story so far. I originally intended it to be a short story, but it might end up being a long short story or a short long story. Or a short novel? I’ve just decided to let the story tell its story, and to be its editor every step of the way.


  1. Joanne says:

    I love your post. I can appreciate the fact that you self edit…I do too! But, you made your editing a very entertaining little blog.

  2. 1. 2,345 words is great for 3 days when you first start a story. Unless you already know exactly where you’re going or spent outside time thinking about scenes or dialog, there’s no reason you’d start much faster. As the story shapes in your mind, you’ll have more ideas and be able to write more. But in the beginning, figuring out what you want to say is extremely hard. I don’t consider myself actually writing a story (specifically a novel) until around 5,000 words. Then at that point I’ve done enough brainstorming and plot sketching to have a direction to move in. Be proud of your word count. Page count is unreliable because different fonts make different numbers of pages and because when your story gets published the number of words you can fit on a page in your Word Document will never fit in a page of a book. Which is why the average novel you read will be about 300 pages or so but the manuscript submitted might be only 130 or so pages. This is why word count matters.

    2. At over 2000 words, you’re looking at a VERY LONG short story. I guess it depends on your expectations for a short story. I used to go to a writers meetup in SA and the assignment was to write a short story between 800 – 1200 words every week. The only short story I’ve been able to finish was just over 1600 words. Some short story books I’ve read had stories that felt like a chapter in a novel – so maybe about 10,000 words. But those were LONG. Once you get past that you’re looking at something maybe like a novella. I found this wiki (and its links) helpful on clarifying It basically says:

    <1,000 words = flash fiction
    1,000 – 7,5000 words = short story
    7,500 – 17,500 words = novellette
    17,500 – 40,000 = novella
    40,000+ = novel

    3. Over-editing is the kiss of death. It'll kill your story if your not careful. I know because I've killed several my stories that way. Advice I've read in like 17 different books is separate writing from editing. When you write, sit down and turn off the editor (by force if necessary). Allow yourself a certain about of time to write uninterrupted. And then take a break, and when you come back edit it. And then move on. Don't go back and re-edit it until you've finished the whole project. One of my favorite writing helps is A Writer's Book of Days. and they talk about this a lot. It's great.

    4. I can't wait to read what you have cookin'.

    5. I didn't edit this comment. 😛

    • Problem: My writing is hollow unless I have edited numerous times. By “editing” I really also mean “revising.” I’m adding and changing the story, as well as correcting errors and fixing incongruities.

      Problem: I can’t continue my story unless I go back and read from the beginning each time to get myself back into it. I’m imagining that I can’t keep this up for long, and it’s probably a major contributing factor to my having started a few projects and never finishing. It’s also probably why I spend so much time revising what I’ve already done instead of continuing with the story… I notice too much that needs to change in what I’ve already written.

      Problem: I know my approach is inefficient and against what’s recommended, but I am not sure how exactly to turn off my neurosis on this one. Like when I used to take voice lessons, and my teacher wanted me to go back and re-sing a certain phrase in a different way, I had to start from the very beginning. I can’t just pick it up somewhere in the middle like that — who does that?

  3. katdish says:

    You’re exhausting, but not the only writer I know who writes this way. BTW, 1000 words per day is a very good pace.

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