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.