July 2006 Archives

The Gold Star Method

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So -- long-time visitors will likely know that I am working on a couple of novels now. Others may find this a stunning surprise. If you fall into the latter category, you should probably leave a comment, as I clearly need to talk to you more.

I have long debated whether to talk about the writing process in my blog. This is an issue for me only because I don't want to look like a loser, talking about my writing process when I'm not even published. (Well -- not lately, anyway.) But at the end of the day, I figure there are more people who give a shit than might think I'm lame, so here we go.

Lately I have been facing a problem: when I rewrite a section of the current novel (currently entitled Hi From College), I find that the rewritten part is much better than the original. The reason this is a problem is that I'm working on a set of five chapters (or so) to send to my editor, to demonstrate a nice thorough rewrite to her. Okay, so the reason this is a problem is that it's a lot of work. I had hoped I could kind of pick through the existing work and change a few sentences, and that would suffice for the rewrite. The reality appears to be that when I rewrite a whole chapter, it gets way better. This means maybe I should rewrite all the chapters. I don't feel like rewriting all the chapters, as I have already rewritten several of them multiple times already, and I want pizza from my toaster NOW. (That's an amusing reference to a particular TV advertisement from the late 90's). However, here is the data: it gets better when I rewrite it. So I should do that, regardless of how long it takes.

So I have been avoiding just flat-out rewriting whole chapters, except for Chapter Five, which deals with my roommate "Rob" at school, who is going downhill during the chapter. I decided that the original chapter was so atrocious (really, kind of mean-spirited and just shitty) that it required a rewrite, and the new version is much more subtle and smart. Okay, so that's done. But what about the other four chapters?

So for some weeks, I sat here, kind of paralyzed. What should I do? Should I suck it up and rewrite the whole book? That would take a long time, and would actually obliterate a lot of what I think of as pretty good writing. On the other hand, it would likely fix parts that are boring or poorly-written, and introduce brand new awesome parts. Clearly the right long-term answer would just be to rewrite the whole damn thing, though that would take another year.

So this week, I decided upon a solution: the gold-star method.

Here's the idea: print out the pertinent bits, then read through them (out loud). When I come across a part that is very memorable, mark that part of the page with a gold star. When I come across a part that is just "pretty good," mark it with a silver star. The idea here is to mark up a big body of work (say fifty pages), then measure it to get an idea of what a typical value per page is for gold and silver stars. Then go through and rewrite the pages that don't have enough gold and silver stars (on a page by page basis, rather than a chapter basis). Ideally, this means that I keep the good writing (the gold and silver bits), and rewrite the parts that need rewriting. Aren't I clever?

Erin suggested that I should market the Gold Star Method. I will set up a series of seminars after I get famous. You just wait.


And a final one from the Welches archive: some sort of fuzzy yellow flower, covered in little insect friends. Are those Solitary Bees? I hope so, as I'm using those for a depressing metaphor in an upcoming book.

Welches, OR - Mossy Situation



On a bit of fallen-down tree, this mossy situation has developed.

Welches, OR - Duck



Duck. Swimming. ("Bird! Bird! Dude, there's a bird there!" as William and I would say, circa 1999.)

Welches, OR - Seed Pods



Some more from the vaults. This is some kind of seed pod device.

Contacting Chris Higgins

I'm a writer based in Portland, Oregon. I mostly write for Mental Floss magazine (and their website), though I recently had a story on This American Life, and had a cover story last year in The Portland Mercury.

You can follow me on Twitter for occasional jokes, or find me on Facebook for updates on writing and utterly shameless self-promotion.

I'm also a mobile website and smartphone app developer. I work for Cloud Four. In years past, I worked with Night & Day Studios; I helped create Peekaboo Barn, Peekaboo Wild, Big Fat Lies, Life in Short, Cocktail Compass, Nick Jr.'s A-Z With Moose and Zee, Quibble, Savage Love, and a bunch of other apps.

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