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?


  1. I am definitely a putter-inner.

    My first drafts (with the exception of my first WIP) tend to average around 50-60k. It depends on the story, but it usually ballparks around there.

    A few drafts later I've usually added somewhere around 5k (sometimes more, sometimes less). Again, it depends, but I actually have noticed that lately I've been adding more, especially in this last edit of a WIP I'm working on, so I wouldn't be surprised if that number went up.

    Regardless, I tend to write light first drafts like you. And Stephen King, apparently.

  2. Ava, I knew it! We are alike in more ways than one. Nutella, coffee, need to love our WIP, and now this! And by the way, Stevie wishes he was like us. He doesn't have a blog, or a Facebook page, or a tweeter accounts.

  3. I'm a putter-inner as well. I feel like my first drafts are more like skeletons that need layers of meat. My current WIP's first draft was 90K, and four drafts later, I've added 10K. I'm not thrilled about that, and right now I'm trying to bulk up the plot and make sure everything's coherent, but after that, I plan on crushing, killing and destroying anything that doesn't need to be there. Hopefully I can get 'er down to 95K. (My original aim for this one was 75K. Yeah, I went too far over that to ever hope to get it there...)

  4. Kathryn, you raise an interesting dilemma that I had to deal with when I revised Rock Peak. I realized that I had to start cutting. I didn't want to go over 100k. But then wondered, does this mean that I have a potential two part book in my hands. I could see how that would be possible, but decided to pretend I never asked that question. I have seen plenty of novels (granted primarily in the YA space) that are in the sub-60k range that are said to be part 1 of 2, etc. Food for thought.

  5. Definitely. I think for me, I have a tendency to be redundant in descriptions, or vague, or I might have too much information sometimes (from what I gather from my critique partners, this is something I've done before), so hopefully paying attention to those areas will help me get rid of a few K's worth of words. :)

  6. Ara: I am totally a putter-inner! I write very similarly to you, except for the extreme speed. I do like to draft fairly quickly (1-2 mos) with 2-3000 word days when possible. My best book yet was done during NaNo last year and I'm trying to recreate that flow.

    That said, my first drafts tend to be on the shorter side. I'm a spare writer, left-brained, perfectionist kind of gal, so I've struggled with layering in more emotion, more setting, more, more, more. Even after final revisions, my last book is only 81K. I'm shooting for 90 with my current WIP.

    Great topic!

  7. Thanks, Gwen. You raise a very interesting point... is the first-draft a more "left-brained" function? Are we trying to get the core story in as fast as we can before the excitement wares off? Which implies that revisions are a right-brain activity, where the "art" of the story comes through. To use a parallel, I guess anyone can slab on rough clay and say it's the form of a bi-bed humanoid. But only an artist can mold it and chisel it to the point of true art. I'll need more coffee and Nutella to ponder this one :)

  8. Hmm. I think I'd actually argue the other way around. To get a good story out, I need to go into right-brain creative mode and muzzle my editor. By writing fast, she doesn't have time to butt in or freak out when I write crap.

    I can let the left-brain take over when it's time to revise.


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