Saturday, September 17, 2011

Are you a Putter-inner or Taker-outer?

"Some writers are taker-outers; I'm afraid I've always been a natural putter-inner"
On Writing -- Stephen King

I am happy to announce that I am exactly like Mr. Stephen King... well, only when it comes to my 2nd draft habits.
Credit: Free images from

Stephen King, in his seminal book on the craft, describes that he had a propensity for writing very puffy stories in his early years (high school years). One editor, who rejected one of his short stories gave him the magic formula.

2nd Draft = 1st Draft - 10%

This formula, he claims, was one of the reasons why he believes his writing began to improve. He focused on cutting.

Now, this works for some types of writers. Stevie (yeah, I call him Stevie... we're very close) writes monster novels, typically in the 180,000+ word range.

I am not thay type of writer. It turns out that this is a good thing, since, unless you are Stephen King, publishers shy away (reject) books larger than 100k words.

My first draft is light, typically ranging in the 60k-70k words (see my previous post on 60,000 in ten days).

Writers who have been studying the craft, and have listened to the advice of the veterans, understand that your 1st draft should sit and simmer. Some say two weeks, others say one month. Mine is a minimum of two weeks, but I try my best to get engraossed in something else so that I am away from the story for one month. I want to forget the details. I want to forget the names of some of the characters. I want to forget and create as much distance as possible.

Because when I come back to it, I want to read it like a first-time reader. I want to have distance and objectivity.

When I do return to it for the 2nd draft, themes emerge, the motivation of secondary character crystalize and scenes that I may have glossed over get clarified.

As you can imagine, as I read through, I bubble up with ideas -- ways to complete it, refine it, and improve it. I may even change the ending. I even take out handful of scenes and replaced them with new ones. So it's natural, that the word count will grow.

My propensity for adding is tied directly to the fact that I write my first draft fast. My story world will disintegrate if I don't write it fast. Some facts:

Aces -- 1st Draft = 8 weeks
Rocky Peak -- 1st Draft = 4 weeks
Ten Years -- 1st Draft = 2 weeks

(side note: by writing this data out, I noticed that I have been increasing the velocity of my writing drastically. I hope I don't expect to improve on that when I start the next one.)

So, what this means is that I am a natural putter-inner. And I put in plenty. More facts:

Aces -- 1st Draft = 74,000 --> 2nd Draft = 93,000
Rocky Peak -- 1st Draft = 65,000 --> 2nd Draft = 98,000
Ten Year -- 1st Draft = 60,000 --> 2nd Draft = ???

It goes without say that 2nd and 3rd drafts are nice and slow. They are leisurely strolls through the story world.

What are you? A putter-inner or a taker-outer? Do you add, or cut? Do you sprint through your first draft and then stroll through your 2nd and 3rd drafts?

Monday, September 12, 2011

60,000 Words in Ten Days

This is not a marketing gimmick. For one, I have nothing to sell... not yet.

This is something that two years ago I would not have thought possible. In the past I never quite finished my stories. And those that were almost there, really sucked. I got over that hump with Aces. But this type of productivity is not the norm for me.

So what did I actually do?

I wrote a 60,000-word romantic comedy in two weeks (ten actual days of writing). And I'm still having a hard time believing it.


Back on August 25th, just before I drifted off to sleep, a seed sprouted in my brain--a story about forgiveness and closure. I dreamt about it and when I woke up the next day I had a surge of flammable adrenalin.

The next day on the 26th, I wrote a blog about my new story. I flippantly said that I was having an affair. At that point in time, I was developing the idea. And as the parts of it came together, I started obsessing over it.

The fact is that I was in love--and I mean that sincerely. I was in love with the idea. I was in love with the characters. I began to feel those butterflies and anticipation and longing that one feels when you fall in love. I could't stop thinking about the story. I wanted (needed) to know how things would come together. Would they come together? Is it possible to fix things that went wrong in the past?

And when I get this way, my dreams are shattered. I've blogged about this as well. My world of dreams and reality get blurred. This is a curse, I admit. I was not able to sleep. I would work off the fumes of love and passion.

As I developed the story, I used a tried and true system that has worked well for me in the past (James Scott Bell's framework for plot and structure). This time, I incorporated what I learned in his seminar which I attended in Los Angeles.

By August 29th I was ready to start. I want to stress, that this is a very short, even by my impatient standards, period of planning time. But I had identified what I needed. I knew my main characters very well. Too well. I knew the conflict and the challenges. What I didn't know was how I would end it... but I never know that.

To get into the right state of mind, I spent time flipping through old year books (oh yeah, I worked myself up). I reminisced, bringing back and tapping into those awkward days. I read the notes that my friends wrote ("You're the best. KIT" -- "Lakers rule!"). Then I hit the mother load. I had forgotten that during 9th grade I kept a journal for about three months. As I read the horrible melodrama that was my life, I knew that I was ready to explode with content.

But I did one more thing on the 29th. I analyzed one of my favorite romantic comedies -- Notting Hill. I even blogged about it for you. My new story is a romantic comedy so I wanted to assure that I had not left any page unturned.

I bagan to write in earnest on August 30th. I wrote the first chapter and stopped there. I have this ceremonial thing that I write the first chapter and evaluate the voice, the dialogue and the characters. The next day I gave it to my wife. She smiled and said the thing every writer wants to hear. "I want to know what happens next."

The surge was unstopable. On Sept 7th I tweeted the following:

The next day, on Sept 7th I tweeted this:

Nine days of writing and I was at 53k words.

By the next day I was sitting at 60k words. Which happened to be the goal for this particular story.

I wrote fast, because I honestly couldn't stop the process. I was scared that I would lose it if I didn't burn through it. Also, I needed to know how the story would end. I used all my tools that I've written about in the past. Scrivener, Evernote and the iPad. Not to mention Nutella (#nutellaWriters) and espresso.

On Sept 9th, I was done. Over the past couple of days I've taken a break. I have to tell you, writing like that has a burn out effect. I was (am) exhauseted. To keep up this clip I would wake up at 4 AM to write until 6 AM. Then from 7 PM until 1 or 2 AM.

Now, I'm done. And a bit shell-shocked.

Now I'm letting it simmer. I'm creating distance from the story. I will return to it in a month (maybe two weeks... maybe one). And I have to say, I'm dying to read it. I'm already considering a few additional scenes... but I must admit, maybe I wrote those scenes already. 

I can't recall. 

It was all a blur. 

A dream, but a real dream.

Fight the good fight!
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