I believe it was the movie Mean Girls that first introduced this term to me, and I thought it was an apt description of what I see a lot in the submissions I’ve read. Word Vomit is a phrase I use to describe a writer who literally spews forth words on the page and then does not go back to clean up the mess. This is evidenced by the use of purple prose, unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, run on sentences, and endless meaningless dialogue.
When I write my first draft, I do tend to “throw up” all over the pages and let the hands just keep on typing whatever comes to mind. But in the first round of edits cleaning up word vomit is the first task at hand. Why use three words when one word will do? Don’t use the word “was” and my personal pet peeve “had been” to excess. It throws your narrative into a passive voice and you want to remain active. If you are using adverbs then in most cases you’ve chosen the wrong verb. You should rarely have to describe the action of your verb with an adverb.
Don’t get too flowery with your prose. I had a recent discussion with an agent trying to sell manuscripts and she told me that publishers are rarely taking anything under 70,000 words for a novel and NOTHING over 85,000 words. Most rejections are due to word vomit. Clean up those manuscripts, tighten those sentences, make it lean and clean, and I bet you will have more success at getting someone to review your manuscript. This is hard, I know, but well worth the pain.
Please share your tips for how you clean up your own Word Vomit.
I like to think I don’t vomit, I’m just kind of rambly, like Mark Twain. But the way to clean it up is to rest in between writing and reviewing. Taking a day in between reading and posting a blog, a few days for a chapter, and a month (or more) for a manuscript, allows your eyes to become fresh again and see stuff you’d otherwise miss. It’s amazing how often my critique partners will see I typed “if” instead of “of,” and I can’t see it when they’re pointing it out to me! Same for excess words. Fresh eyes and reading aloud will highlight redendancies.
Great advice and I couldn’t agree more. Word vomit is not a bad thing. It let’s a writer purge themselves of the story and gives the muse free reign. It’s when they don’t clean it up…that’s the issue. You’ve given all writers a wonderful suggestion which I’ve mentioned here before, but cannot emphasize enough. Don’t rush a good thing. Let it marinate for a while. I like the timelines you suggested as well. Thanks for checking in and sharing your thoughts!
Kelly, I agree but what might be confusing for a lot of writers is how top best selling authors abuse a lot of the “do not do this” of writing. I do try my best to apply this approach to my writing and it nauseates me when I read a best selling author and find these rampant throughout the story, not to mention switching POV without a scene or chapter break.
I agree with you, Jack. This is a conundrum, as they say. I’ve observed the same things in more popular writers’ works. To me quality writing is paramount, and I often write to editors letting them know about errors I’ve found in books. Not sure how often they pay attention, but when my name is on the cover, I want it to be right.