This is one of those baffling questions my youngest daughter asked me the other day on the way home from school. As a parent you get used to a bombardment of seemingly random questions, like ‘What’s the opposite of sky?’ or ‘Why does the alphabet always have to be in alphabetical order?’
Anyway it turned out she was talking about the way maths groups are organised at school. For literacy it’s colour groups (blue, green, white, etc) but for maths they’re either in the Adds or the Takeaways.
Do the Takeaways rule?
But the question got me thinking about an aspect of the writing process that has been on my mind recently. So many writers around me seem to be in the Takeaways when it comes to revising their drafts. You might hear, Oh I had 200,000 words to start with and had to lose half of them. And y’know what? Secretly I’m thinking, blimey, if I cut 50% of my drafts I’d be left with hardly anything at all to work with! It’s funny how most writerly advice is based on the assumption we have an excess of material, an extra layer of fat that needs trimming, as we work towards that final draft. Cut back 10%. Cut the first three chapters. Cut, cut, cut!
But what about if you have the problem not of too many words but too few? In that case please come and join my gang, the Adds. My early drafts never reach the target word length – I’m always adding, adding, adding until I get there. I’m cool with this M.O. most of the time but you know how the occasional doubt creeps in – that little voice that says perhaps you’re not doing it right?
So you can imagine how thankful I was to read a blog post recently by the lovely Erika Robuck, who’s a writer of historical fiction I ‘met’ through Twitter. Here she writes about using the analogy of the body when she’s writing and revising. I found these words in particular very reassuring:
With this draft I have a skeleton with some tendons. Maybe I have an eyeball or thin layer of muscle at various places, but no more. With each revision or critique another layer gets added until finally, there’s a whole body.
Yes, I thought. This is exactly how it works for me too, Erika. Perhaps there are more of us in the Adds after all.
So, in a quick and very unscientific attempt to test my theory that the Takeaways are in the majority, here’s my question. Do you belong to the Adds or the Takeaways?