Tuesday, March 29, 2011


As the release date for IRREPARABLE HARM approaches, I've been thinking about the process of writing it.

In ON WRITING (a fantastic book), Stephen King shares his oft-repeated advice that the second draft should equal the first draft minus 10%. Variations of this advice abound---murder your darlings, leave out the boring parts, etc.

Apparently, it is common for a writer to write a long first draft that needs to be pruned (or, in some cases, shorn). I wouldn't know.

My first draft, of anything, is short. Too short.

My husband is my first reader for everything I write. And without fail, his remarks will include something like, "good thing you're not being paid by the word" or "this is all pitch and no wind up."

With regard to the first draft of IRREPARABLE HARM, he said, "This is good. I like it. It's way too short."

I, of course, always take his comments with exceeding grace. But, this time, I did protest.

"It's a thriller."

"I know, but it's all action. Everything is driving the plot forward."

Now I'm thinking maybe he's just a wee bit stupid and I need to find a new first reader.

"It's a thriller." (I say it slower this time.)

"It's too fast-paced. It's exhausting to read it. There's no downtime."

After several more iterations of this conversation, he pulled from the bookshelf an array of thrillers by different authors and flagged the "downtime" parts for me to see what he was talking about.

And, finally, I got it. Once I did, I had to concede the point. And, the second draft more or less equaled the first draft PLUS 10%.

It occurred to me that there are probably three reasons for my lean first drafts:

1. My undergraduate creative writing concentration was in poetry. When writing poetry, you are trying to convey with a phrase, or even a word, an emotion, a description, a memory, or what have you. Poetry is spare.

2. I've spent a decade writing as a lawyer. There's almost always a page limit. In brief writing, you aim to be direct and succinct. (And when all else fails, you play around with the footnotes and margins!)

3. I wrote most of the first draft while mothering a four year old and a two year old and finished it while mothering a five year old, a three year old, and a newborn. So, I wrote in short bursts, with the goal of completing a scene before someone noticed I had disappeared. My writing sessions usually ended when I heard crying. I knew I had a small window, so I got right to the point.

My point (to the extent I have one) is that writing advice is like anything else. You have to be open to it, use what applies, and discard the rest.

And, cue the crying! So that's it for now.

The next two weeks are going to be pretty busy with the IRREPARABLE HARM release, so check back for updates and a giveaway!

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