Did you know that there are two types of writers? This leads me to ask whether you’re the minimalist underwriter or overwriter, who are maximalists.
Unlike my previous few articles there is no real right or wrong answer here.
In fact, the only right answer to this post is if you’re writing in a way that comes natural to you and whether you’re comfortable with writing in such a manner.
For instance, some of us are taught to overwrite then edit our writing down while others are taught to underwrite and continue to add content while editing. I call it editing up.
The sad truth is most of us are taught to overwrite but there are more than a few of us who are more comfortable underwriting; I’m in this group.
I guess it’s due to my fitness background where you start small and build your way up to a certain muscle mass, bodyweight (if gaining muscle is your thing), and strength.
Ditto for writing, as my manuscripts might be around 40,000 to 50,000 words for a rough draft, giving my full-length novels novella feels. However, I always end up with something between 65,000 to 75,000 words.
So, what are you?
Let’s find out.
I’m starting with the more popular of the two; the overwriter. Overwriters write, write, and write a first draft. They might have up to 100,000 words and then some for a novel that is intended to be between 70,000 and 80,000 words.
Their first drafts are monstrous and there’s always debate for the overwriter as to what stays and what goes.
Jerry Jenkins refers to this as having a hunk of meat in front of you and it’s the writer’s job to carve the meat until it’s the right size. Of course, the meat is the manuscript.
I overwrote with Northern Knights and as I’ve admitted before, the results were disastrous as I spent almost an entire year getting the book right. If you buy Northern Knights you won’t find many (if any) major errors or loose writing, but it wasn’t always the case.
Right then and there I found overwriting wasn’t for me, but just because it’s not for me, it might be for you.
Again, I’ve come across more overwriters than underwriters.
But, how do you know if overwriting comes naturally to you?
Answer these questions:
1. Are you descriptive to the point you must describe each character, scene, and setting? The Wheel of Time’s Robert Jordan was like this, and he would take pages to describe just one character.
2. Do you like process of elimination? Overwriters are always ‘editing out’ and there may be additional subplots and scenes within the work. Overwriters will pick and choose which ones stay and which ones go.
3. Do you write to get a feel? In other words, do you mind describing how your characters react in situations via telling before editing to showing? Some authors love this in first drafts as it allows them to get the story down before making the work readable.
4. Do you take notes? Yes, some authors love taking notes as they go. They’ll jot down notes on the same Word doc these days. Perhaps notes for scenes, characters, and situations. For their edits they’ll refer to these notes and go from there.
5. Are you good with dysfunction? Overwriting can lead to some intended plot holes, meaning the author may knowingly change the plot as they go to experiment. Believe it or not, I wrote two versions of Swords of Destiny before picking (with a heavy heart) the latter of the two. An overwriter would just change the plot on the fly and edit where appropriate to make the plot work.
6. Do you have a professional editor: While it’s always great to edit your work a few times, overwriters should always have a professional editor. While it’s recommended all of us go this route, overwriters are notorious for leaving clutter and unless they have expertise in editing, a professional editor is always necessary.
As stated before, I discovered early that I’m an underwriter. What distinguishes them? Let’s answer some questions:
1. Do you write a skeleton draft? A skeleton draft is the draft before the first draft. Like how a skeleton is the body’s framework, a skeleton draft is the novel’s framework. As stated, my skeleton drafts are between 40,000 and 50,000 words.
2. Does your writing evolve? This is the opposite of the overwriter, who likes to carve their story down. Underwriters don’t. Instead, with each draft, we’ll add words until we reach a certain peak.
3. Do you hate writing clutter? Overwriters take endless notes on their drafts, underwriters won’t. We like keeping our documents clean and find clutter overwhelming. We’d rather keep the story in a single plot (or write two versions as I did with Swords of Destiny). We won’t deviate too far in either direction, instead sticking with a single story with a single goal in mind.
4. Do you want the reader to have their own theater? In other words, do you lack descriptiveness except when necessary? I do, because something I’ve always found annoying in most works is if I picture a character a certain way, that’s what I’ve always preferred. I throw hints at what they look like, but for the most part a character’s appearance is up to the reader. This allows for fewer words.
5. Do you like action? All my books are action-packed and rarely slow moving. I’ll only move slow if I have to, which is rare. Underwriters are great at getting straight to the action. They stick with the story and leave scene descriptions and even irrelevant backstory to the audience.
6. Editor is preferred, but very optional: One good thing about underwriting is you’ll learn some good editing skills. For those who can’t afford an editor, underwriting is great because it keeps the story in line. Some of us edit as we go, which can be a bonus if that’s your thing. Again, you can’t beat a professional editor but you’re keeping the clutter to a minimum and it’s easier to knock out plot holes if you underwrite. You can become your own editor here.
As mentioned earlier, some of us are naturally one or the other. Very few are hybrid. I suggest you always take the natural route and never let a mentor or peer tell you which way to go. We’re all different and each of us possess different styles.
If you’re more comfortable overwriting, then overwrite and work your way down. If you’re an underwriter like me, underwrite, then work your way up.
There’s zero right or wrong answers here, but there is a lot of opportunity for the writer if he or she simply takes their own direction.