How do you write a book? How do you take the burning, raging tenderness of your story and fit it into sensible words with steady pacing, coherent characters, and foreshadowed plot twists? One of the great and terrible truths of writing is that it is an art form that requires hard core right brain and left brain skills. So how do you get both sides of your soul talking to each other and writing a book that actually, you know, makes sense?
First off, friends, I have some good news: you don’t have to get it all done in the first draft. First drafts of books are awful ninety-nine percent of the time. And if you are that other kind of unicorn that writes lovely first drafts? Then stop reading writerly blogs and get down with your own brilliance.
For the rest of us, I’d like to talk about the long-short-long and the short-long-short method of writing a book, which was written about in much greater detail in “The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop” by Stephen Koch. Go buy that book and read the chapter on Working and Reworking. It’s great.
But, well . . . since the internet’s main function is to turn all information into blips of data that feeds our ever shortening attention spans, I’ll summarize with my own spin on it.
If you write really fast for your first draft, if you let yourself flow and fly and breathe into it, great. But then the next time through you should agonizingly analyze all aspects of it and work out all the big and small logics of a novel. When you are done with that long draft, dust off your fairy wings and approach it one more time with swagger, throwing in all kinds of flourishes now that the bones are right. That’s the short-long-short method.
Or, conversely with the same-ish end result, if you spend months, years, or decades working on your first draft, be a damn hippy, stay up all night pounding away at the keyboard, and don’t look back as you zoom through it, inserting life, inappropriate jokes and weird metaphors into your manuscript. And then, you guessed it, read it again with your bifocals on and your cup of Earl Grey, sighing over your excesses as you tame this novel beast one last time in the long-short-long revision.
Katherine Sparrow lives, loves, and writes in Seattle where every gray day is a beautiful one. She’s a Nebula Award nominated author with over twenty short fiction stories to her name. When she’s not writing blog entries for her agent, she’s writing picture books about devilish kids, middle grade books about monstrous tweens, and young adult books about scruddy punker teens who think they can fight the gods and win. Come say hi at katherinesparrow.net.