WHAT STEPHEN KING SAID (AKA 10% RULE)

A few weeks ago I shared 10 things I’d learnt from Stephen King’s book, On Writing. I held back one important point, not because it was invalid, but because I was saving it for the right time. You might have heard of it – the Ten Per Cent Rule.

It goes like this:

‘2nd Draft = 1st draft – 10%’
~ Stephen King (On Writing)

That one struck a chord for me because I had just started working on another rewrite of Wherever You Go. To give a little context, I finished the ms in December, and buoyed by beta reader feedback, sent it to an agent. Then I faffed around a bit on my new novel and waited. Long story short, she ended up saying no (she did say I was a terrific writer, which helped ease the rejection pain … a bit). It was too long for a first novel, she said.

When I think back to the day I sent it, I was so excited. I had it all planned out, you see. She’d say yes, she’d find a great publishing deal, and today, I wouldn’t be writing this, but some crazy-happy post about a cover or launch date … or something along those lines.

Truly, I imagined this was how it would be (despite telling myself to calm down), especially when she said she’d read the first 100 words and was loving it. How naive was I? How big-headed!

Fast forward past the self doubt and the might-as-well-give-up phase … those phases went for a while. But for the past few weeks, I’ve been waking every weekday morning at 6am and killing darlings. Applying that Ten Per Cent Rule – my ms is now at 100,000, down from nearly 110,000.

What does that mean in practise? Among other things, it means:

  • Getting rid of all the padding, the over-description and excess chatter;
  • Removing unnecessary speech or thought tags;
  • Making things tight by removing unnecessary words like perhaps, just, really and so;
  • Cutting scenes and characters that don’t advance the story.

And in reverse:

  • Filling out where necessary – you may have skimmed over something important or downplayed a big moment;
  • Shuffling things around to improve flow or pacing; and
  • Using sensory language to give readers an image, rather than give a vague impression.

I’ve learnt so much during this rewrite. About myself as a writer (I’m drawn to Impressionistic art so sometimes my descriptions need more specific, sensory words). About my desire to share experiences with empathy and freedom. And about my sometimes too obvious love of words. As in, lots of words.

But the most important thing I’ve learnt is this:

I have great resilience.

Sometimes I have to dig deep, but I always bounce right back out of whichever well I fall into. Stronger, wiser and ready to start afresh.

If I’m fortunate enough to have my ms accepted by an agent or publisher, I’m going to jump and scream with joy. And in the meantime, I have my strength and my words. And I won’t be giving up any time soon.

PS. I have sent the ms to another agent. They listened to my over-the-phone pitch and asked to see more, so I put on my brave hat and sent what they wanted.

PPS. I have a short romance novelette called Under Her Spell coming out later this month – more info here, as well as my picture book, Fergus the Farting Dragon. I’ll have a wine to that!

7 thoughts on “WHAT STEPHEN KING SAID (AKA 10% RULE)

  1. This is great (oaky, not the rejection). But you are spot on. My 4th novel editor cut 20,000 words in the structural edit. I added about 10,000 back. It’s what happens. Keep on keeping on.

    1. Thanks, Jenn. But I guess the ‘great’ thing is that sometimes we need rejection to learn. If everything is easy, we don’t. Silver linings, right?

  2. This is great to hear! I love what you say about learning about yourself during editing—I feel the same. They say all art is autobiography and that includes the processes by which we make our art, too, I suspect. Fingers and toes are crossed! x

  3. Yes, that is a terrific way to think about it. Much like the scars on our body tell our story, so too do our pathways through art.

  4. Resilience is definitely an important trait among writers, and I’m always so impressed by — and proud of — the way you are able to get back into a positive frame of mind after a setback. I remain completely confident Wherever You Go will be published before much longer — and it will be the first of many Monique Mulligan novels to hit bookstore shelves.

  5. Love the honesty of this post, Monique. I’ve heard it said that if you’re in the game long enough everything will happen. The good and the bad. When the ‘bad’ comes along, it’s a reminder that we’re still in the game.
    Sometimes those brave hats are hard to find so well done you for keeping on. Love, Nadia

    1. Thanks, Nadia – for your friendship and encouragement.

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