The Additive Property of Prose

A few days ago, I began work on a super-short piece of erotica. My goal was a thousand words of high-octane smut, unsentimental and driven by pure lust. After burning through the rough draft, I set the piece aside feeling pleased with myself and certain the next day would find me publishing it.

Of course, that didn’t happen.

Write_SlutInstead, I felt the need to tack on a few-thousand more words with the same rational of being finished ‘tomorrow.’

Currently, the draft sits on my hard drive, unfinished, and weighs in at nearly five-thousand words.

Sometimes, a story just demands to be longer and more complex. As much as I ‘kind of’ want to be at peace with this, I’m not. Why? Because I rarely write something and immediately see it requires brevity.

This is a flaw in my process, one I intend to address.

The punchline is I’ll often return to drafts months later to read them with fresh eyes. Only then do I realize trimming and compression will vastly improve a piece I toiled to lengthen. This leads me to question my judgement, and that’s dangerous territory for a writer. Successful and effective writing depends, in part, on a series of artistic decisions. It also requires confidence that ‘you’re right’ even when you’re dead wrong. Why? Because a failure to work with conviction leads to little more than half starts and un-revised slop

Yet in the same breath, I equivocate: because my compulsion to add instead of subtract often provides a wealth of specifics and/or images I’m able to compress into some damn fine beats.

Of course, writing scorching-hot smut is an entirely different animal from writing other kinds of fiction. And I don’t take to giving up easily. So after this longish piece is finished, I’m going to constrain myself to writing a series of tiny pieces with a set word count. I’m betting these constraints will work where my instincts fail, and, eventually, I’ll learn how to arrive at a successful draft by adding zero.

At least, that’s the plan…

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