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  • Writer's pictureMark J. Keenan

Listen to your broccoli

A splash of routine, a pinch of process and a dash of intuition.

This is the recipe that I am hoping will create a successful second draft of my manuscript.

Routine is something that successful writers’ always put at the top of their list of writing tips. It’s the holy grail of literary pursuit. Writing routinely, and regularly, without distraction is what is required. It’s not surprising, after all you couldn’t build a house if you didn’t make time to lay bricks. So to assist with this, we have worked out a ‘sort-of’ routine for my writing. I say ‘sort-of’ because it’s still school and university holidays and the house is in a state of continuous motion. People coming and going, seeking food, playing music, requesting trips to the store to buy parts for the Tardis they are building, etc. It’s all good, I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it’s not always easy to get a solid few hours to write.

One of the things that we’ve done to help this is to create a space for me to work. This is a great help. Last year, I would collect my notebooks, pens, laptop and take up whatever spot was available, wherever it was available. This often meant parking myself in the middle of the storm. My new location now has me in a spot where I can still hear and see the chaos, but now I can choose to enter or watch from a safe distance.

As an engineer, I am used to following processes and planning. But as a writer, I have found that I don’t plot my work; I have found that I am, by nature, a ‘seat of your pants’ writer. For the second draft however I have decided to try to merge these two personalities. I purchased a book by Stuart Horwitz called ‘Finish Your Book In Three Drafts - How to write a book, revise a book, and complete a book while you still love it.’ Sounds excellent and, so far, it is. Horwitz calls the second pass on the manuscript, the ‘method draft’ and he provides a process to follow to work through what you have written - in ‘pantsing’ mode - and make it better.

The first few steps of the process involved writing down all the scenes in my manuscript. The catch was that you had to do this without looking at the actual work. Scenes you felt were good then were highlighted green. Bad scenes were made pink. Then you opened the manuscript and wrote down all the scenes you had forgotten and marked these blue. It was an eye-opening exercise. Then he suggests cutting your manuscript up into individual scenes. That meant printing and 507 pages later I had something I could split up as he suggested. I’ve just started on the next step and I am finding that following this process is actually giving me far more ideas about the story than I ever would have expected at this stage. It’s actually fun and quite exciting.

Finally, add intuition. Writers’ instinct. The ability to create something without conscious reasoning. Anne Lamott calls it her broccoli, naming it after an old Mel Brooks routine where the psychiatrist tells his patient ‘Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.’

I have found different ways to hear my broccoli. Sometimes I hear it when I am running, other times when I am reading, often when I am interacting with the family or friends. When it speaks, I need to listen. And, most times, I then need to write it down before I forget what it has said to me.

So, that’s it. My recipe for a second draft. Will it work? I’ll let you know in a few months time.


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