As I’ve been working on Project Stripes, the primary novel receiving most of my attention, I am constantly thinking back to what I read in Stephen King’s Memoir On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. King wrote about drafting his stories and his writing process, among other things, and I was completely enthralled by the advice he gave. Years after I finished, something he said has stuck with me, haunted me really, while the number of my drafts goes up and up. He said the second draft of a manuscript should be the word count of the first draft minus ten percent. Whenever I think of this, my heart sinks. I’m in my eighth draft (more or less) of Project Stripes, leagues away from my second draft two years ago. And with each draft, my word count had gone up. Therefore, it is my belief that King is wrong.
What? Stevie King wrong about drafting! It goes back to my discomfort about creative writing classes in general.
Writing is hard enough to do independently, imagine trying to teach it. Writing students aren’t typical learners, typical individual entirely. We’re a unique breed, susceptible to the tuition of the more experienced. It takes time and toiling to develop a shell hard enough to be confident in one’s own work and methods. I know; I’m still developing mine. Imagine how one creative writing teacher could possibly give good instruction to a class when what is needed is individual attention and tutoring. Really, it’s impossible to.
Every writer is different, though we may use writing as a means of wrapping our minds around the crazy world we live in. We all have our own backgrounds, our own rearing, our own point of view of the world and how we deal with the cards that have been dealt to us.
Stevie King, in all his wisdom, I believe is allowing his seasoned greatness to cloud his hand as he writes for scribe and non-scribe alike. I’m not saying all his advice his wrong. Most of it is spot on and ingenious. You should buy the book. But in this one instance, I believe he assumes all writers should write like him. Take that second draft word count and deduct ten percent from it. (He may not have intended this interpreted, but it’s what I’m going with.) To do so would mean cropping away the foliage of unnecessary clutter so only the golden narrative remains, or so the advise is indented and assumed.
Each progression, each rewriting of Project Stripes has had a flux, an increase and decrease, of word count. While I have tried to cut it down, I simply couldn’t. Each reading and subsequent contemplation brought forth new ideas. I was learning more as I wrote and developed characters’ past, their motivations, and their role in the main character’s journey. And I loved every minute of it, even the times when I wanted to leave the story for a moment. How could I find a way of following King’s advice and cut ten percent (!) of my work when there was more material I knew needed to be added to give the story more depth and richness? I couldn’t. So I didn’t.
I’ve found that, for me at least, the more I write a story, the more I discover new things about the characters and the world they live in; they become more real to me with every draft. It doesn’t happen during that first draft in one go, and I hope it never does.
Of course, I could be completely bonkers and wrong in my opinion that it’s okay to add words to your story as you write (so long as it serves the plot). We’ll only know for sure when I’ve been published and can come back and tell you about my methods. Not to persuade you to do it my way but to share what works for me, and for you to ponder its potential. If it does, great! If not, great! We shouldn’t be trying to pull someone over to our side of tackling a story. We should be diplomatically sharing our approaches without any commands of “do this, it’s the right way.” That’s stupid, and you should know better.
Again, just one man’s opinion.