There’s a term I picked up in my writing career–I’m not sure if it comes out of creative writing or newswriting. We refer to a writer “covering the waterfront” when he or she tries to write about too much at the same time. It’s a bad habit that many beginning writers–including myself–have to learn to get past. It goes hand in glove with the concept of “show, don’t tell.”
I think I’ve pretty well graduated past “show, don’t tell,” but my personality gets in the way of my writing sometimes. You see, I like to get things done, I mean, I really like to get things done. I’m really good at the big picture, but often miss the details. It drives my wife batty sometimes, because she’s more methodical by nature. We’re both trying to make decisions in advance of retirement next summer, and I want to research it, then go ahead and decide. She, on the other hand, has a stack of books a yard high and is still undecided on a lot of things.
But this desire to get things done is how I have published 23 books so far. People ask me how I can write so much, and I tell them, “One word at a time.” I’ve actually gotten to the point where the number is meaningless to me, because I’ve realized that the faster you put it out there, the more likely you are to miss things.
In her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne LaMott advises writers to see their writing world through a “one-inch window,” which encourages you to not try to “cover the waterfront,” and try to get from point A to point Z as fast as possible. Readers don’t do that, at least if your writing is enjoyable. They want to savor that book as they read it. Oh sure, they might read ahead to find out what happened from the previous chapter if it is exciting. But you need to spend time on the details if you want them to have that desire to keep reading.
I have to remind myself about the “one-inch window.” I think I might have missed the concept in my last book. It was 360 pages, and I was intimidated by how long it was. And so, rather than focusing on the details, I focused on the big picture–and missed the “one-inch window.”
Fantasy author Mercedes Lackey recounted on Quora the other day that David Brin had a reputation for writing his first draft, then setting it completely aside and starting anew on his final draft. I’m tempted to do that with my last book. It’s a lot of work, but somewhere along the line, I missed looking through that “one-inch window.”
And I think it needs fixing.