On Happily Writing Way Too Much

Auriane Alix

“Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft — 10%. Good luck.”

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In school, when given a 2,500-word assignment, I would get carried away by inspiration and suddenly find myself in the middle of the 3,580th word, thinking aloud “damn… I only said a third of what I had to say.”

Instead of starting over more concisely, I would just keep writing until I felt I had emptied my mind.

It still happens very often.

And you know what?

My best pieces were born this way.

I feel the weight of the not-so-good coming off and lightening the final work, making it shine.

To keep the very best, you must cut

Overflowing the word count may seem like a waste of time, energy, and ink, but the truth is that it’s much easier to cut through the excess and shape a perfectly distilled text than it is to realize that you’ve only scratched the surface because you wanted to keep it short.

I like having a huge block of text in front of me, and the peace of mind of knowing that I’ve said everything I need to say. Everything is there, secured on paper. It can’t run away anymore.

Now all that’s left to do is distill it all down.

To keep the very best of it.

While trying in vain to get published, Stephen King once received a note from an editor, saying:

“Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft — 10%. Good luck.”

You can’t polish the diamond if you barely have enough material. To keep the very best, you have to cut.

10% is good, but a little too easy. I like to delete 25% because then I have to be uncompromising.

Every word, every sentence, every paragraph that I have a doubt about disappears without a second thought.

It seems hard.

Actually, it’s a delight.

It’s like tidying up your house. Or watching the vacuum cleaner suck up the dust. Every time I hit the “delete” key, I feel relieved.

I feel the weight of the not-so-good coming off and lightening the final work, making it shine.

When it gets tougher, I remember something I was told in photography school during a portfolio review:

“Each slightly weaker photo will weaken the whole series.”

About the process itself

Once I’m done writing everything, I save my work and shut my laptop. The words now need a rest. Like pancake batter.

The next morning, I reread my work and do my best to improve the sentences, rearrange the structure, make cristal clear what it is that I want to say.

Whenever I find something useless or boring, I delete it without further consideration. Or I change it to make it better — which is often the most concise turn of phrase. No room for uncertainty.

Don’t just delete words or sentences.

Delete entire paragraphs if you have to.

One bonus trick for you: Try to delete the first paragraph of everything you write. It always improves the catch.

They say we need to warm up before getting into the heart of the matter. That’s true. But your readers don’t have the time.

Final thoughts

Working this way means I can dig as deep as I want into a topic. It’s freeing. The only thing in my mind is the writing. I don’t give a damn about anything else.

That’s what a first draft exists for.

Overflowing the word count takes a little more time, but the results are worth the effort.

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