Beating the "Sugar" Addiction–Tightening the Writing

Sugar addiction is dangerous.

When I started writing fiction years ago, I didn’t know anything. There wasn’t an adverb, adjective, metaphor or simile I didn’t adore. The problem, however, is when we emphazise everything, we in effect emphasize nothing. My writing was bloated, and I had to learn to trim the fat. I had joined a writing group that, on more than one occasion, left me in tears vowing to go back to sales and forget this foolishiness of wanting to write.

But, once I could get my ego out of the way, I realized that yes, a handful of the critiquers were nasty human beings who would never say anything nice. Yet, that didn’t mean that I should ignore everything they had to say. When I finally calmed down, I was open to suggestions.

One of the strongest writers in our group regularly submitted pieces of what was called flash fiction. Flash fiction are short works of fiction. Some are 500 words or less, 300 words or less, 150, and even 100 words or less.

I figured if I had a strict word count limit, that might force me to go on an Atkin’s Diet for Writers. I would cut out all carbohydrates modifiers, in hopes I could break my addiction to them. I started writing flash fiction in hopes I could make my prose leaner and more powerful.

If you are like I once was, and you regularly indulge in sweet metaphors until your brain is euphoric from a sugary writing high, I recommend trying your hand at flash fiction. Sugar addictions are bad in eating as well as writing (and this parallel allowed me to use the Girl Scout image above–ROFL).

Since some of you guys on Twitter and FB expressed interest in my fiction, here is a flash fiction story I wrote in 2004, and it was my very first contest win. There was a picture of an old Chevy Bel Air as a writing prompt for a story that could be a max of 500 words.

Deep in the Heart

A thin finger of Texas highway shimmers with heat, and rows of cacti whir by in a blur of green. Wind snaps the ends of my grandmother’s hair across her cheek and her head turns toward the haze of plateaus along the horizon. Her scarf tries to tangle in a smile that has spread like a sunbeam across her eighty-year-old cheeks.

Sitting next to her, my heart flutters with happiness. I begin to believe that love, hate, fear, and wonder are passed from one generation to the next, floating along the same genetic tributaries as brown hair or green eyes.

When I was a year out of college, my grandmother, a product of the Great Depression, greeted me, and my 1956 Chevy Bel Air convertible, with a concerned scowl. I knew she worried about me. Truthfully, at the time, I worried about me. Though the car was a dream I’d carried to adulthood, I wondered if I would have the funds and the patience to restore the rusted, creaky disaster to her former glory.

My grandmother grew up desperately poor and, even now, her face is painted with shades of hardship that mark her generation as different. When I was little, she told me stories about the time she had to stay home from school six months because she had no shoes and how her older brother, now dead, carried her to and from church to protect her feet from angry barbs of West Texas goat heads. A lifetime later, long after the days of walls papered with old newsprint to keep out the cold, she still clips coupons and saves every spare cent . . . just in case.

I’d grown up watching old movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, my grandmother next to me, her lap dusted with popcorn from my greedy fingers. I would sit, enthralled by Marilyn Monroe’s beauty or Audrey Hepburn’s class and dream that one day, I too, would be glamorous. I recall how I’d glance to the lovely, patrician woman by my side and wonder if she felt the same.

Now an adult, I tilt my rear-view mirror to study her reflection. I watch her grin against the sun and marvel how joy has melted the disquiet from her face. We glide across the desert on white-wall tires, our hair wrapped in bright scarves that flutter and wave flirtatiously to the truckers behind us.

Our final destination is a quaint South Texas town known for strange green lights and artistic flair— Marfa. We’ll stay at a family-owned hotel, and I’ll make jokes about being abducted by aliens. At night, I will drive us out of town and park beneath a sparkling canopy of stars in hopes the famous Marfa Lights might come out and grace us with an appearance. Like college girlfriends, rather than grandmother and grandchild, we’ll lean against the massive hood of the car that made it possible for both of us, at least for a moment, to be glamorous.


The coolest part about this story is that, aside from the car and the trip to Marfa, everything is true. This was my very first contest win and my first piece of published fiction. I gave my grandmother a copy of the book with this story printed in it. She started crying when she read it.

Anyway, do you guys suffer from a writing “sugar” addiction? Have any tips, tools or suggestions?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of July, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

Last Week’s Winner–Gloria Oliver

Please send 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

Month of July’s Winner–Leo Godin

Please send your 3750 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of August I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

Now an adult, I tilt my rear-view mirror to study her reflection. I watch her grin against the sun and marvel how joy has melted the disquiet from her face. We glide across the desert on white-wall tires our hair wrapped in silk scarves that flutter and wave flirtatiously to the truckers behind us.

Our final destination is a quaint South Texas town known for strange green lights and artistic flair— Marfa. We’ll stay at a family-owned hotel, and I’ll make jokes about being abducted by aliens. At night, I will drive us out of town and park beneath a sparkling canopy of stars in hopes the famous Marfa Lights might come out and grace us with an appearance. Like college girlfriends, rather than grandmother and grandchild, we’ll lean against the massive hood of the car that made it possible for both of us, at least for a moment, to be glamorous.


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  1. First off, that picture is awesome, lol. And your flash fiction piece was beautiful. A great example of how strong writing can be without all the bells and whistles added.

    Flash fiction is also a great way to get your writing out there via social media. #FlashFriday is a pretty popular hashtag. I’ve contributed a few times and gotten some great feedback.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Okay. You know me. I never use words unnecessarily 😀

    I am not too got with flash fiction. I did do this one a couple of years back (and it’s my only attempt).

    The Wrong Path

    He stood at the crossroads at the tender age of seventeen and as predicted had received his first criminal record. He could have walked to the left and stayed on its disastrous path, ending up just another statistical drain on today’s society. But he chose the path to the right, working hard to reclaim his dignity and self respect. He cherished this path, gaining a rewarding job, loving girlfriend and loyal friends. He awoke on the day of his 22nd birthday not knowing this afternoon today he would be honoured a hero. At exactly twenty five past four he would rescue and save a young child from a burning building, and all it would cost him in return was his own life.

    Didn’t think I could say so much not so many words…did you? lol 😀

    Great post and great story matey.

  3. Wonderful story, I can see why you won. I’m in the tightening stage myself, so your post is timely for me. Thank you for the flash of entertainment, and your advice.

  4. Loved the story, Kristen!

  5. Beautiful story, Kristen. Lean and clean. Great use of verbs. Worked for me because I actually did drive with my grandmother in my two-tone blue and white 1956 Chevy convertible. Not as romantic an encounter, sorry to say. At that point she didn’t have enough hair to whip and tangle, though I did. lol.

    I agree that flash fiction is a wonderful (and quick) way for people to hone their wordsmithing skills. I will add it to my suggestion list I give my writing students. I usually suggest (for the long-term writing addict) to learn screenwriting. This takes considerably more time and effort, but you can learn many more skill sets for writing long form narrative.

    I have one piece of flash fiction (870 words) on my blog I put up a month ago called Heart Full. Your piece has inspired me to write more. Thanks.

    • Caitlin Kelly on August 1, 2011 at 3:03 pm
    • Reply

    I was talking yesterday to a man who has published more than a dozen NF books, who said he admired my writing (!) for its clarity and economy. I was flattered, of course, but one thing significantly changed my style after 30 years — writing for a NYC tabloid! I learned there, by necessity, to write even more tightly than ever because they just won’t give you the space of a broadsheet (like the NYT.)

    So even if you hate tabloids, pick one up from time and time and study how quickly they tell a story in a very few paragraphs. I think it could be helpful.

  6. Great FF. However, the picture – my first thought was the little girl had started the fire as revenge for them not buying cookies from her; the second – the owner of the house was baking cookies and the house caught on fire; third – I’ve got a weird imagination.

    1. Actually, I think your first impression was the correct one. My aunt sent this to me as a “joke” …her daughters are Girl Scouts, LOL.

  7. As I’m sure you’ll read over and over – that was a great piece! i loved it. And I’ve read a lot about trimming adverbs and other words that only make your book longer but add nothing to it. My first novel was over 100,000 words and is now about 60,000!

    • Trish Loye Elliott on August 1, 2011 at 3:26 pm
    • Reply

    The picture made me laugh and your piece made me smile as I thought of my own grandmother. Great work.
    I’m more of a lean writer. I’m forever trying to add a little sweetness to my work (just a little). I would love to have similes and metaphors come easily but they’re the hardest part of writing for me.
    Again, beautiful piece.

  8. Great story, Kristen. I can not only “hear” you in it I can see why it was published.

  9. Thanks again for the great tips. I enjoyed your story. What a special time for you and your grandmother.

  10. Lovely. And it prompts an achy regret. My grandma should have been an English teacher and did manage to finish High School. She constantly corrected my grammar. And we share the same taste in shiny objects.

    But she died before my first book was published. She did see a couple of my first articles, though. Sometimes I feel her over my shoulder. I’m not sure she’d appreciate some of my writer-icity but heck–it’s just word bling. Maybe she would.

    1. “word bling” – what a great phrase.

    • Kathleen on August 1, 2011 at 3:58 pm
    • Reply

    Great story, Kristen. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Your flash fic piece deserved a win. It was lovely and a full story with rich detail. I attempted to shorten a story into a flash piece but it is incredibly difficult to do well. Kudes. (short for Kudos!)

  12. My inner-girl scout is cracking up. Your story makes me want to head out on a road trip. I believe flash fiction is a super work out for trimming up style.

  13. Uh oh, you’re bringing out some new guns. You’re like an onion, layered in that Shrek analogy kind of way. My favorite line is:

    “We glide across the desert on white-wall tires, our hair wrapped in bright scarves that flutter and wave flirtatiously to the truckers behind us.”

    Super nice.

  14. Great story, Kristen! It was very sweet, and made me wish for a grandmother. 🙂

  15. Lovely story! I can barely remember my grandmother – but I did inherit her old car when I started driving 🙂 All my good memories of her came along for the ride.

  16. What a sweet story about your grandmother and you! Thank you for sharing. It’s written with so much heart. It reminded me of my own mother and grandmother who went through the Great Depression. Also, Kristen, I bought your ‘Are You There Blog…’. and am so impressed that I plan to also buy your earlier one.

    1. Awww, thanks Diana. I really appreciate that. Make sure you hang out with us on Twitter at #MyWANA if you aren’t already. I appreciate you atking the time to leave a comment.

  17. What a beautiful story Kristen, and I’m so happy your grandmother got to read it too! My grandparents passed away when I was young, so any stories I wrote about them were told to me by other family members. I wished I’d had that experience you wrote about, it’s beautiful.

    Thank you as always for your honesty and helping us learn to better ourselves and our writing. You’re awesome!

  18. A beautiful piece, Kristen, and I was so glad to read that your grandmother was able to read it. I can see why it made her cry. I remember my grandmother telling me about living during the depression and also my husband’s grandmother. She kept a pair of scissors with one blade broken in half because they could still be used to make small cuts and she didn’t like to throw things away, just in case. Writing flash fiction is a great idea for trimming the fat, or sugar. I’ll have to write more flash fiction. I mentioned you and your blog and your book in my latest post. I would have mentioned you anyways, whether I get a shot at winning your contest, but that’s cool that I’ll have three chances now. Yay!

  19. I love your voice, this is a lovely story and how nice for your grandma to read it.

    • Tamara LeBlanc on August 1, 2011 at 7:02 pm
    • Reply

    I definitely have a sugar addiction…both in writing and in eating. I love adjectives about as much as I love double stuff Oreos, and adverbs as much as a bowl of peanut butter cup ice cream smothered in chocolate sauce.
    I’m wordy, and voracious.
    Over the years I’ve learned, with the help of a wonderful critique group, to trim the fat off my manuscripts. I think I’ve got a handle on the excess, for the most part. I’ll still sneak a sleeve of Oreos now and then. And a few unnecessary adverbs sometimes slip onto the page as well. But I’m working on it:)
    And by the way, WOW. I’ve always wondered what your fiction writing would sound like, and I’m not surprised to discover its so beautiful, so evocative and so incredibly poignant (all of these adjectives are totally necessary here) You are extremely talented, in many more ways than one.
    Thank you so much for sharing the flash fiction story of your grandmother with us. I loved every word and saw everything play out in my head like a short film. Wonderful!
    I would love to read more.
    Have a wonderful afternoon!

  20. Very nice. Your description made it easy to imagine the scene, and I am not a particularly visual person. Lovely thoughts about your grandmother too. Some of us had larger-than-life grandparents, didn’t we? I am jumping more into Flash Fiction opportunities while editing my WIP, so that I can keep fresh on my writing.

  21. Very good advice. A few well placed metaphors and similes can add to a story, but too many becomes grating and distracting. They’re like stones on a road that a reader stumbles over and loses their way. At least this reader does. Keep it tight; keep it straightforward.

  22. Beautiful story, Kristen! It’s so exciting to get to read some of fiction (though it was mostly true :D). I discovered flash fiction shortly after starting my blog and fell in love. You’re so right, it helps us to trim the fat. I like to call it “snipping the dangly bits.”

  23. Being brief is something that I really struggle with. Comments on Facebook, Tweets, short stories, blog posts–they all seem to suffer from what Stephen King would call “Diarrhea of the mouth.” I need to keep your advice and story in mind when I write. Trim the fat, cut the sugar. Be a lean, mean, Hemingway machine. 😀

  24. Thanks for sharing your lovely flash fiction! I loved the imagery.

    I am getting into flash fiction now, so your writing is inspiring to me.

    • Caroline Clemmons on August 2, 2011 at 3:53 am
    • Reply

    I loved your flash fiction. I a sucker for a generational bonding story and that one was beautiful. Thanks for sharing it.

  25. A very touching story.

  26. Wonderful story. I’ve never tried to write anything short- I’m so wordy I’m afraid it will suck. I am a description whore- I want all the sense all the time. My critique group is constantly cutting things out- because they aren’t important, or I just mentioned the color of his hair two paragraphs ago. I can write without so much description, but I have to concentrate and I find it harder to put back in later then to take out. So now as I edit I highlight color words and try and cut half of them out of each chapter.

    1. I’d never tried flash fiction before I found the Cafe Muravyets (another blog here on WP) 50-word story challenge. At first, I think I wrote at least double that. After some whittling and fiddling, I got it down to 50 words. It was thrilling. After that, I was hooked. You should give flash fiction a try. You might surprise yourself. And, sometimes the fewer the words allowed, the easier it is to write. Don’t know why.

  27. Great post, Kristen! Your saying, “when you modify everything, you modify nothing,” is something I’ve repeated to others many times since you taught me that lesson. 🙂 Thank you so much!

  28. Guilty as charged. It’s not that I’m sugary so much as unable to tell it short. I find it difficult to keep posts under 500 words. Working on it. Thanks for the kick in the booty to remind me to keep practicing.

  29. I think my writing has greatly improved since I discovered the flash fiction genre a few months back. The only problem is writing flash is totally addictive – for a while there my novel lay by the way-side untouched!Great post and loved you flash fiction piece.

  30. I love this and have long been a sugar freak. I’ve learnt recently that the best way to fix the sugar fix is to find the melody and rythym in the writing. Vx

  31. This could be hard especially if you don’t know what you want to get rid of. I’ll probably have sugar addiction until I figure how to do it without the steroids. 🙂

  32. Stunning imagery Kristen. I think the beauty of Flash Fiction is that it forces us to rely on inference and the abundance of information held in what is not written. In many ways it makes the words that much more haunting in their intangibility. I remember from years ago being told about Hemingway’s ultimate form of flash fiction that he allegedly wrote in a bar after being bet he couldn’t write a story in under 100 words. He managed it in six:

    For sale: Baby booties, never worn.

    Character, conflict, resolution, done.

  1. […] Kristen Lamb brings us a fun and enlightening article on how to trim and tone our writing in Beating the “Sugar” Addiction–Tightening the Writing. […]

  2. […] the Sugar Addiction – Tightening The Writing by Kristen Lamb.  (And a free flash fiction piece to […]

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