Can My Writing Be TOO Tight?

by | Nov 29, 2016 | writing


As writers, we’re frequently told to tighten our writing. It’s a common thing. I mean, how many of you have sat in a critique group and NOT heard that mentioned at least once? Believe me, tightening our sentences and paragraphs in general is a good thing. But can we do that to the point where it becomes a negative? Let me tell you about my first experience pitching to an agent.

I attended my first conference. I was so excited (and nervous). Despite the fact I didn’t know to sign up for agent appointments ahead of time, I snagged the last appointment on one of the agent’s agendas. Whew! One barrier crossed. Now cue the nerves. But I had been practicing my pitch, I’m really ready to go. And you know what? He liked my story. Truly. He was rather intrigued by my characters, their arcs, and the history I had pulled in. So he asked for me to send him the first however many chapters.

writing computerAnd I took the next day and poured over those chapters, making sure everything was how it should be. Hit “send”, breathe again. When he responded later that day, I got the most curious feedback I could have ever imagined: “Your writing is too tight.” What? Is that possible?

So, I call up my writing mentor…have you ever heard of this?…too tight? Nope. She’s got nothing. Never heard of that. I search the internet. Nothing. All I can find is “How to Make Your Writing Tighter”. What am I supposed to do with this feedback? How can I take this and improve if I don’t know what this could mean?

Fast forward to my next conference. I schedule appointments ahead of time (learned my lesson)…only this time, I scheduled a Mentor session first and an Agent session second. The Mentor read the same first page the first agent looked at. Her response? “I wouldn’t call it ‘tight’, I’d call it concise…and that’s not a bad thing. But as I went through it, I didn’t get a picture of what your main character looked like.”

Oh. So, I’ve tightened it to the point, I’ve left out some necessary description. Maybe that’s what that first agent meant. So, I take the manuscript, add in some description. Now I’m golden, right?

10K-Day-header-croppedWell…that’s not where this story ends. At some point I decide to do a 10K day. That means a LOT of writing, right? And at some point in the day, you get to a point where you let loose your internal editor and just write. And something clicked. As I’m writing that day, I found a rhythm to my writing that had not existed. And I discovered something. In my striving for tight writing, I had lost flow. There wasn’t the smoothness to the manuscript that should be there.

So, for me, I would say, that yes, there is such a thing as writing that is too tight. As a general rule, I would say newbie writers need to strive for more tight, concise writing. But the “sophomore” level writers out there, need to make sure they aren’t sacrificing a nice flow for the sake of tightness. There’s my two cents, for whatever that’s worth.

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Sara R. Turnquist