Thursday, July 28, 2011

Why I don't tithe my draft to the writing gods

I talk a lot about writing process here. My writing process, to be exact, as this is my blog, and if I were to start talking about someone else's writing process that would probably be both factually inaccurate, and a little creepy. ("What are you doing, Kat?" "Oh, nothing. Just watching you while you write.")

So usually what I talk about are the things that work for me. Today, I'm going to talk about a thing that doesn't, and the reason that I'm going to do that is because the book I am going to talk about has become ubiquitous. I've seen it mentioned by a lot of people, in glowing and laudatory terms, given such high praise that I wondered, briefly, if I was the one with the flaw because I didn't work that way.

Let me be really clear. I haven't read the book I am going to talk about. This is not a book review. The book I've seen mentioned is The 10% Solution, by Ken Rand. From what I have gathered from seeing people discuss this book, Rand advocates trimming the ten percent of prose that is unnecessary from all of your drafts. His book, as far as I can tell, is a more detailed version of the "rule" that the length of your second draft should be your first draft minus ten percent.

Now, I absolutely agree that one should avoid unnecessary prose. Sometimes you get to the end of the draft and realize that you have included information that you, as the author, needed to write, but that is not useful to your reader, or that distracts from your story. Sometimes your sentence level prose can benefit from tightening. If there were a writing book titled Delete Unnecessary Words, I would totally blurb it.

But I have never in my life wound up with a second draft that has been shorter than my first. My flaw as a writer is not the tendency to give too much information to the reader, but to give too little. The length of my second draft is usually my first draft plus twenty-five percent. If I were to cut ten percent from a first draft just because everyone else was doing it, I wouldn't have a draft, I'd have an outline. (Which is another thing that doesn't work as part of my process, just in case you were wondering.)

The purpose of this is not to disparage Rand's book, or the people who feel that using has helped them become better writers. I am in favor of anything that helps someone become a better writer.

But I want people to remember that writing is not a one-size-fits-all sort of activity. It's good to try new things, especially if you haven't been happy with how the writing has been going. But just because you find a popular solution unworkable, doesn't mean you're doing it wrong.


  1. Another insightful post. Thank you.

    I'm not sure what happy little naive bubble I've been living in, but the idea that some writers adhere to certain rules and guidelines never occurred to me. I've kind of bizarrely managed to hop around between different methods of writing and editing, trying them on like shoes but never really liking them (I'm not a shoe person -- I don't know why I thought this simile would work). Though if I have to be honest, that bunny hop method is probably exactly why I haven't really stuck to any one work until about nine months ago.

    And, as long as we are mentioning writing guidelines we aren't on the funboat with, I have to say Stephen King's book never really tickled my fancy. Though I haven't read it and I haven't had anyone mention it to me for a while now, when I first heard it I wasn't really on board. Probably because I was still hopping around. Okay I really need to stop that now.

  2. I tend to be hyperaware of writing neepery, partially because I am a process junkie, partially because many of my friends are writers, and when we talk about our day at work, this is the kind of thing that gets talked about, but mainly because I've taught writing for a decade now, and I need to be able to say things other than "Your sentence should have words in them."

    Process can be fluid, and can change. Even though I had done a lot of serious academic writing (published articles and the whole shebang) before starting to write fiction, I write differently now than I did then. So there's nothing wrong with hopping, or trying on shoes, or finding one person's writing Bible (I love King's On Writing, for instance, and have found it useful on both a personal and classroom level) to be nothing more than a doorstop.

  3. I tend to write too little. Even my short stories are short. I end up going back and adding. I'll even jot down a note or two as I'm writing (like, "describe this in more detail" or "add more to the feeling here").

    I do believe, like you, in deleting all the unnecessary words (read: adverbs, mostly). But if I cut a certain percentage, dear mother of Coffee -- I'd end up with a very limping, anemic story.

    Great post, as usual. Also, major props for using 'tithe' in the title. It's such a fun word. ~Ali