Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On Writing: What Is Ambiguous

While I agreed with nearly everything King wrote about the craft of writing in On Writing, there were a few things he said that contradicted what I've heard other authors say.

For starters, he recommends (commands) all writers read. Constantly. Everywhere. A moment is spent waiting is a moment that could be spent reading. So is a moment spent riding as a passenger in a car, standing in line at the post office, and brushing your teeth. He also advises reading everything, not just novels in your genre.

I happen to agree wholeheartedly with this decree. The more I read, the more I learn. The more I learn, the better writer I'll be. Of course, there's also the fact that I need to be able to critique what I'm writing to understand what is good and bad, but I'm getting there.

But I know for a fact that several of my favorite authors don't read while they write, specifically Janet Evanovich and Laurell K. Hamilton. Evanovich says on her site that she doesn't read when she's writing, and since she's pretty much always writing, she doesn't fit in a lot of novels. Hamilton has professed on her blog that she simply doesn't have much time left for reading fiction after she writes and spends time with her family, and that her reading time is typically dedicated to reading her nonfiction research novels. While neither of these New York Times best-selling authors read, they are still great authors. Of course, for an unpublished author, not reading seems a lot like chopping off your own fingers. Not to mention, not reading would just plain suck. I'm happy to go with King's advice on this one.

The other debatable statement King makes has to do with rough draft to final draft ratios. He has a formula for this: the second draft = the first draft – 10%. He'll take the final word count of his latest creation and consciously shorten it by 10% in the second draft, claiming that "every story and novel is collapsible to some degree. If you can't get out ten percent of it while retaining the basic story and flavor, you're not trying very hard."

The other ratio I've heard is Laurell K. Hamilton's. She's stated on her blog that when she started writing (and she believes this to be true for all novice writers) that only 30% of her first draft was reusable. The other 70% had to be cut and/or rewritten.

Seventy percent of a first draft seems like an awful lot to throw out. I would scoff at Hamilton if not for struggling through all my rounds of edits on Madison. I don't know if I took out and changed 70%, but I'd say that's a pretty good estimate. However, being a perpetual "putter-inner" (to quote King), my revision ended up adding several thousand words to the novel.

I suspect that for beginner writers, the ratio falls somewhere between what these two authors estimate. Even if I were to trim out 10% of a rough draft, I'm pretty sure that I'd still need to cut, rewrite, and fill in a lot more than that. My hope is that with more practice, my ratio of revision will fall closer to King's estimate than Hamilton's.

Faye Progress:
10093 / 90000 words. 11% done!

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