It is a well known fact at The Exception to the Rule that I long ago named Stephen King as my literary idol. I love him so much in fact, that when I was a teenager, I pooh-poohed reading The Poisonwood Bible because I had just picked up a copy of Cujo. How I could resist the allure of Oprah’s Book Club sticker is beyond me! (And yes, that is about as rebellious as I was in high school.)
It was also during my high school years that King wrote On Writing. My Christmas list that year included On Writing, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Bonne Bell lip gloss, and the Backstreet Boys “Black & Blue” album. My dad dutifully typed the list into his Palm Vx for safe keeping, and I received everything I wanted.
Naturally on Christmas Day, with Bonne Bell on my lips and the Backstreet Boys flowing out of my Discman, I sat down and started reading On Writing by tree light. I was going to be an author, goshdarnit, and Stephen King was going to tell me how.
Now that over a decade has passed since that Christmas, I have a novel+ under my belt and am getting my feet wet in the querying kiddie pool. I have also realized that I am not Stephen King, and not everything he told me is going to work.
2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%
King didn’t come up with this equation by himself. It is advice that an editor wrote on the bottom of a rejection slip during his early days, and it in part helped his writing evolve to legendary status. But as of today that advice has not helped me, and it likely will also not help you.
Super star blogger Nathan Bransford mentions in this post on word count that many aspiring novelists produce staggering drafts that pass 100,000 words and keep going. I, on the other hand, am not alone in completing a draft at 70,000+, fearing that I didn’t write everything I should have.
Subtracting 10% of your draft isn’t going to help your work in progress if you struggle with these length issues, or if you have an appropriate amount of words but wrote 50% action and 50% boring backstory that no one but you cares to read. I suggest a different approach to the equation.
2nd draft =
1st draft – Everything that isn’t Important + Everything Important You Forgot to Include
(Repeat until your draft is an appropriate word count for a debut novel in your genre.)
Is this formula too vague for you? It should be vague! King’s advice works best for someone who can already tell a damn near perfect story, but who at times includes too much detail. However, that is not my problem, and it likely isn’t yours. Part of the work that distinguishes a writer from an author is the ability to self diagnose. To critically think about a work in progress and keep pushing it until it stands alone. Being an author means that you write something that has a backbone because you built it from your labor and desire to improve.
Stephen King found the editing method that worked for him, and now it is your turn to tear through your work in progress and find what works for you! Plug those plot holes, evolve your characters, and have the courage to write your own equation for success.
Help get the conversation started at The Exception to the Rule by posting your equation for the perfect 2nd draft as a comment for this article. Happy writing!