Thursday, October 13, 2011

Second Draft = First Draft - 10%

This is a formula learned by Stephen King back in his early years of multiple (multiple!) rejection slips. Like Mr. King, I find my writing style to be the opposite. I write a fast paced, skimpy first draft, and then add the meat later. But I'm just now figuring out what that really means.

I'd worry about themes, and character arcs and motivations, all of the things a good writer should be worried about. But I'm realizing now that I think I worried about them at the wrong time. I don't outline. I don't plot my first draft. I can't. I've tried, and it kills my creativity. Just...*bang*. Dead. I start with something--a situation, a character, a first line--and I go with the flow from there. Granted, I would probably save myself some revision time if I thought ahead, but that's just not how I work. I'm noticing now as I'm on draft # (I care not to mention the number) that I DO have themes! Or at least, snipits of things that I can make resonate, things I can flesh out and bring to the foreground and make thematic! OMG! And I have symbolism! What!? For real. It's all there. And I didn't even try.

I wish I'd come to this revelation sooner, and had I finished this amazing book called On Writing a little sooner, I probably would have. But I'm not one to dwell on shoulda, coulda, woulda.

I'm not saying every story needs themes or symbolism nestled in there. I don't think they all do, but if you find it, go with it. Why not, right?

Another question we tend to stress over is the "what's it all about?". What was my book all about? What was I trying to say with it? Why did I spend so many hours hunched over my keyboard, forgetting to eat, or shower, or wear suitable clothing? This is another question best saved for draft #2, not the first draft. At least, in my case. I can't speak for the rest of you.

During the first draft stage, you might keep this one tucked away in the back of your mind, I try to. But I personally can't decide what I want to say until it's done. You don't want to sit down before you write and think to yourself, "Well, I'm just going to teach these kids that doing drugs is a bad idea." Because then your manuscript of going to reek of morality. And if you want to write an honest work of fiction, you don't want to do that. I mean, unless that the sort of book you want to write. I don't want to step on any toes or anything.

So that's basically it. Often bringing these things to light in what you've already written takes a great deal of cutting (killing those pretty little darlings) and moving, shaping, rewriting. But when you sit back and read what you've written, and it actually resembles a real story, it's so worth it.

Does anyone here follow this formula? Start of with a whopper and file it down to the good stuff? Please share!


  1. I definitely have a problem with putting WAY too much in my 1st draft--then I feel sad when I have to cut scenes out during revisions. I always find it helpful to start revisions in a completely different file; that way, I'll have deleted scenes saved and could possibly use them in the future (even if it's for a different story). Great post! :)

  2. I'm so with you in that I can't think about things like themes and symbolism while I'm writing. Even though I tend to do some plotting ahead of time, I have no idea what I'm writing until I'm done. Sometimes not until I'm done with a couple drafts! That's why I have CPs, lol, to point the themes and symbolism out later.

    If I tried to write with a message, it would totally kill my creativity.

  3. As you know, I'm also a bare bones writer, so I end up adding at least 10% after the first draft once I fill in the gaps. No, I have no clue about themes when I'm writing, but end up having them at the end. I think when you do it organically, it has way more impact that planning out your symbolism. Of course, I'm also a panster so maybe that would be different for a plotter. Great post, Lacey.


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