Rambling in a post-beta world


There was an unexpected theme in the feedback I got from my beta readers. They said they wanted “more”… More scene setting, more background; essentially, more words.

I was surprised. The whole time I chipped away at my novel draft, I was scared to death of boring my readers with too many words. Come to think of it, I’m pretty much constantly scared of it. It’s a monkey on my back.

Earlier this year, I read Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others. I loved it. As a storyteller, I found myself in awe of the surreal and imaginative worlds he conjures with his words. As a (sometimes) technical writer, I marvelled at how his composition was so precise yet so emotional. Seeing that made me see how I struggle to resolve that difference in my own writing.

I write non-fiction for a living. Usually feature articles and blog posts about science and digital marketing, but sometimes professional profiles, business emails, documentation and copy. Because most of my work gets published on the web, there are certain styles and guiding principles I have to adhere to.

Succinctness is one. A big one, in fact. Huge. Being wordy is considered taking the piss with the reader’s time. It’s considered indulgent.

After so long, I feel guilty when I ramble. Don’t get me wrong, I still ramble, but I feel guilty now, where I didn’t used to before. I suspect it shows in my writing. I’m hesitant to describe things too thoroughly, too scared to dwell on a scene for too long. Because shit, isn’t that what you skip over to get to the good bits?

Recently, a friend told me that she loves detailed descriptions. She loves reading in-depth nuances about a scene. It blew my mind. I’d never heard anyone say that before. Perhaps all this time, I’ve been living in a bubble of rushed, “just get on with it” types who don’t want to stop and smell the roses. (Or, read about how the roses smell.)

So I’m in the midst of my edit now. I’ve been told the editing process should take as long as the writing process, so I don’t feel bad that it’s going at a glacial pace. I also don’t feel bad that I’m adding so much more context via so many more words. I’m being indulgent and I’m trying not to care, because my readers have asked for it. And shit, it’s fiction. Isn’t indulgence kind of what fiction’s all about?