MINI-LESSON: The Right Words

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In my younger years, I enjoyed reading a lot of heady stuff. It didn’t make me feel superior, and I wasn’t a dick about it, I just enjoyed reading things that others considered ludicrous, like David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, alongside older writer’s whose archaic diction frightened many, such as Conrad and Dostoevsky.

I eventually fell in love with pulp science fiction, Asimov, Bradbury, and Ellison, which gave way to a modern scope of speculative fiction reading: George R.R Martin, Nancy Kress, Ken Liu, and many, many others.

But, it wasn’t until I picked up this one book—read through it faster than Usain Bolt on a 100-meter sprint—that I realized relying on literary ambiguity and fancy linguistical tricks poisoned my fiction.

That one book was Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, and if you haven’t read it yet, go do that—right now. Reading this book changed me as a writer. It taught me to reveal the beating heart of my own story and make the reader feel genuine emotion.

I’m influenced by the writing styles and techniques used by those who’s writing I admire, and I’m sure many of you fellow writer’s agree. Over the years of compulsively reading John Scalzi, I learned a lot about his writing process, which is where I first heard about a technique I’d like to share with you.

—Scalzi’s Rolling Draft–
John Scalzi doesn’t write second or third drafts. First off, that’s what makes him a badass. He edits as he writes the draft, which, coincidentally, is exactly what I do, too. But, for a long time, I didn’t write that way. I wrote using the same method so many different writers and writing teachers had shown me, by coughing up the first draft and working to revise it in sequential drafts. For as long as I wrote like that my output was upsetting.

I always had the urge to sculpt and form my story as I was drafting it, but I listened to what so many others repeated like a creed, you’ll never finish the story! You’ll get stuck at the first paragraph! You can’t edit as you go! Impossible!

Until I tried it and wrote a story, which I absolutely loved.

It’s important for you to understand that this process doesn’t omit re-writing or editing. You’ll edit and re-write just as much as you would while using any other method; you’re just doing it sooner rather than later. This isn’t the easy way. It’s just a different way.

As they say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

I’ll say it again. Writing IS rewriting. This isn’t a fix-all replacement for hard work, which is a mindset I believe many writer’s approach this concept with, and it sullies the method’s reputation when it’s the writer’s methodology that’s at fault.

—The Graham Greene Incursion—
John Scalzi also writes 2,000 words daily, which is a habit he formed as a journalist, and something I’ve personally yet to achieve. It’s one of my goals. I could easily write 2,000 words every day, but they wouldn’t be the right words.

This is where my method differs from Scalzi significantly and becomes my own, seasoned with a bit of Graham Greene.

Graham Greene wrote 500 words a day in his youth, and as he grew older, the daily quota decreased to around 300 words a day. This pacing along with Scalzi’s rolling draft concept seemed like an obvious combination. At least in the beginning.

I allowed myself to write 500 of the right words per day. It was strange at first. I’d always forced myself to be as prolific as Scalzi and Stephen King, who both write 2,000 words daily. But now, I had an entire day to put down 500 words. I cared more about every word, understood how each word affected the whole manuscript. After finishing a short story’s first draft, it only needed light revising before I labeled it ‘ready for submission.’

500 words a day got old. I wasn’t producing as fast as I could be. I found myself stopping short when my internal well of creativity still gushed with fresh spring water. So, I developed a new plan. I’d alternate every other day from 500 to 1,000 words and use the extra time on the 500-word days to rewrite, rearrange, and otherwise edit.

—The Week-Long Schedule—
MONDAY: 500 words. Just another day at the office.
TUESDAY: 1,000 words. It was much easier in theory, a bit shocking, but it got done.
WEDNESDAY: 500 words. Deep breath.
THURSDAY: 1,000 words. Even more difficult than the first 1K day.
FRIDAY: 500 words. Thank god, it’s Friday.
SATURDAY: 1,000 words. A grind, but I think I’m getting used to it.
SUNDAY: 500 words. Child’s play! I tell you it’s Child’s play!

—In Conclusion—
It was tricky at first, writing the entire 1k. I kept slipping into my old mindset, trying to just get the words on the page as fast as possible, but I persevered by taking enough time to make the entire 1K not just words, but the right words.

Today, I finished the first draft of a new piece of short fiction after ten days. It’s not completely finished yet, but most of the bones and meat are there. I’ll wait a week then return to the manuscript adjusting continuity, pacing, sharpen the prose, and mold the story into a final product.

The alternating word count has kept every day fresh. Somehow, conforming to a single word count, say 1,000 words, grows boring after a few weeks, which is why I’ve never been able to maintain my daily wordcounts—until I came up with this schedule.

Ever since I implemented this strategy, I’ve stayed on schedule and produced the highest quality fiction I possibly could.

This plan is working wonders for me, and I urge anyone who’s dissatisfied with the way they’re doing things to give this a try and remember that HOWEVER you put the words down on the page, if they’re the right words, then you’re doing it the right way.

There’s only one right way to write, and that’s by writing.

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