First draft? Tayari says to eat the marshmallows first

Photo by Nettsu:

If you haven’t been over to Tayari Jones’s blog, you’re missing out. I haven’t gotten to read her novels yet, although they’re on my read-after-PhD-exams list. But it seems like just about every time I stop by her blog, I come across a piece of writing advice that crystalizes something key about the process.

For example, she has a great post on giving yourself permission to begin writing wherever you feel the action is, skipping right to the good parts without feeling like you have to start at the beginning (either chronologically or in terms of what you think will go at the opening of the work). Here’s some of what she says:

[My student] gave me the idea that he wanted to get to the “good” parts—when the story heated up, but he had to get himself there, and this was the problem. I advised him to just write the parts he wanted to write. The metaphor was that his life was like a box of Lucky Charms cereal. He was being a good boy and eating everything in his bowl, writing down everything that happened. But to capture the full emotional intensity of his experience on the page, he needed to just pluck out the marshmallows, and leave the flakes behind.

By this I meant that he should write only the good parts, the irresistible moments—the marshmallows. Once he is done with those, we will organize it into a shapely draft.

Smart lady! Read the whole post here. One thing Tayari doesn’t mention is that if we insist on plodding through from beginning to end instead of honoring our instincts about where the real excitement is, we often end up generating a lot of flat material that’s going to get cut in the revision process anyway.

So go eat some marshmallows!


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