Counting Down

Post Date: August 9th, 2008

“Seventy percent of a first draft is garbage and 30 percent is gold, but you have to write 100 percent to get that 30.”

— Laurell K. Hamilton

Today’s Word Count: 272, 907 (859 words gone!)
Page Count: 1016

As I climb this mountain of the novel, I’ve proven to myself I can a) produce a lot of garbage and b) show the tenacity of a Gold Rush miner, greenhorn though I may be. Every day I see passages that need to rush on down the river, useless silt and fool’s gold. Every day I dutifully pry them off the rock and try not to look back.

I must never be too enamored of a turn of phrase or particular word. Everything should be considered expendable. Why? I need to get this novel down hundreds of pages. Now it’s 1016 pages and my goal is 502.

And yet, the paradox of revision is this: a draft isn’t a plank you can saw off. That wisdom is paraphrased from Doris Betts who gave me another perspective after my story got carved by a friendly writers’ group. Fifteen different democratic opinions presided as to how I should revise and I was left alone with teeming brain and reluctant red pen to find the crux, the heart, the kernel. So when in doubt, I count, forcing rational and irrational numbers upon myself.

Word counts, like food and energy rationing, make you realize what really matters. A writing exercise dares you to name your story in a sentence, a phrase, a word. Say it short.

Today’s Writing Prompt: Seven Ways to Say It But Only One Can Stay!

Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.

© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.

Elementary: (Kids age 6-10)

1. Look at yourself in the mirror or another person. Find seven ways to describe your face and body or someone else’s. You can pick any parts to describe. What colors do you see? What shapes do you see? What lines do you see? What shadows do you see? What length, height, and width do you see? Make a list of those seven details.

2. Now pretend you are a movie director and you as the writer get to point the camera anywhere so people can see you. Write seven sentences showing us how the camera moves to describe you.

3. Pick your favorite sentence that you wrote but do not tell anyone.

4. Now read the description to someone you know. Ask the person to pick out his or her favorite detail, the one detail that stood out the most.

5. Talk together about why that detail seems interesting or important to the other person. Did you use descriptive adjectives to show color and shape? Did you talk about lines or shadows? Did you talk about size? Did you help the other person really see what you see? Share your favorite detail and talk about why it is interesting and important to you.

Secondary and Adult: (Ages 11 and up)

Describe a person whose features and looks you know well. Make a list of seven physical characteristics of this person and seven similes using the table below. For the first column, use the most specific, concrete words you can. For example, don’t write “gorgeous eyes” or “piercing eyes.” Use the five senses instead. For the second column, use the most unique simile you can think of to describe that facial feature. See the first two examples. It’s okay if your descriptions are intense, overwrought, dramatic, overdescribed – go for it! Write whatever comes to mind.


1. eyes or nose ______________dull green ______still as a murky pond
2. mouth or cheekbones _______sunken_________ like shallow basins
3. hair or any other features of the head ….
4. height, build (bone structure), or weight…
5. voice or facial expression…
6. clothing item…
7. walk or gesture…

Now rate the characteristics. “1” means “doesn’t capture this person” and “10” means “completely represents this person.” If you don’t have any 10’s, try to get more specific, more unique, more startling in your descriptions.

Now you can only pick one feature to capture this person’s essence. Pick one characteristic and write a sentence where the character enters the room for the first time in the scene and we hear the detail and the simile.

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