Sprinkle in the Glitter

I write in layers. Earlier this month, Mary talked about Draft Zero, also affectionately known as the Vomit Draft, Garbage Draft, or other equally pleasant titles. I actually haven’t learned to write a full Draft Zero yet; I’m still distracted by doing corrections to each chapter as I write. But, I do produce a draft zero of each chapter: lay out the bones, the basics for the chapter, and then I go back and begin layering in the meat of the thing. I tend to write in dialogue, so my early drafts are full of conversation. Then I go back and layer in all of the sensory pieces that were missing: smell, temperature, visual elements, and so on. (Sound is still hard for me, so my writer’s group has to remind me to include sound!) The sensory pieces will go in over the course of a few drafts. At this point, I’m usually ready to move on to the next chapter. After a few chapters, I might realize that I’ve written them out of order, or I find that I need to add a chapter between two I’ve already written.  The current chapter is far from polished, but it has dimension, a certain amount of depth and interest, and it’s moving the story forward.

The writing process is so odd, when you think about it. It varies by every writer, and to some degree, by project–is it non-fiction or fiction, a theme that challenges or one that is familiar, and so on. For me, when I get stuck, I step away from the novel and write a short story or two. I love writing short stories (and reading them, too!). Writing a short story forces me to be efficient, succinct, direct, and did I mention, efficient? It’s wonderful practice, pushing me to include all the necessary story elements in a very small space. I love the challenge of it.

The best part of working in multiple stories at a time, is finding the sparkle. I can get bogged down in my own writing, sometimes feeling like I’ve completely lost my way. There’s that inner critic saying, “This is garbage. You’re an idiot to think you can do this.” Yes, we need to squish that critic like the nasty Japanese beetle that she is, but she’s a chatty little thing sometimes. For me, what often happens next is the best part of writing: I’ll hit a wall in the current project, or I’ll have not had time to write in a few days. Finally, I read a different piece, or the piece that’s being ignored, and then I find it. The sparkle.

Sometimes, there’s just small bits of glitter, a wonderful turn of phrase, a description that has me fully engaged in this imaginary world. Sometimes it’s all confetti cake, a liberal dosing of giant, sparkly sparkle that just squashes that inner critic flat under a giant heap of. . .sparkle. Maybe it’s a scene that makes you stop and think, “I wrote that? Wait, I wrote that!” Because, while the drafts may not be great, they may not be ready to publish or even share among trusted friends, all of us are producing something with a bit of sparkle, that hint of brilliance that keeps us going. We realize, here and there, that this project, this story, is really going to shine when we’re done with all the drafts, all the polishing. Much like the family silver, or the brass table, or the antique bureau, our stories have little bits and pieces of wonderful that we can see and feel, and that we know with enough polishing, sanding, or editing, are going to shine all over.

Where do you look for the sparkle?


Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

11 thoughts on “Sprinkle in the Glitter”

  1. I use short stories as a “break” when I get stuck, too. For me, the sparkle is a bit of witty dialogue or a particular description. And yeah, the “hey, I wrote that!” feeling is great!


  2. Love this post, Pamela! I agree completely–there’s always some sign of sparkle that keeps us going in the midst of endless drafts, and I absolutely love that “I wrote that?!” feeling 🙂


  3. I find the sparkle in unpredictable places, which is the point of the vomit draft for me. I just never know which part of the mess is going to produce sparkle!


  4. I’m with Sue. Sparkle is always a surprise. I fight with something that I had intended to work forever and then realize the sparkle is somewhere else entirely.


  5. I love reading short stories. I too forget sound. I’m going to insert that into my current draft, which isn’t draft zero, since I keep revising. With each project, my process changes. I still haven’t found a system that works like a well-oiled machine. That would be nice.


  6. Oh, love the surprise sparkle. 🙂 Sam, I agree–sometimes the sparkle is not at all where I intended or expected. Although, that’s kind of fun sometimes. Thanks for the great comments!


  7. I love, love, LOVE hearing about the processes other writers use. I’m an outliner and just beginning to refine my process so I can work faster. Some people feel the maternal clock, but I’m feeling the “write more books, you nitwit, what are you dinking around for” clock. I start with a beat sheet outline, fairly bare bones, just to get the story down. No sparkle at all. Then I start doing the brainstorming — why would she do this? how would that happen? who are all the suspects? Sparkle is twinkling ever so slightly. Then I start writing it as a synopsis, adding sparkle at every pass. By the time I finish, it’s around 20 pages and I know exactly where I need to dig deeper to shine it up as I write the complete draft. Every step is fun for me, especially when it actually DOES sparkle!


  8. Oh, yes! Excellent, Pamela. I love that moment when you’re writing along and then ZING! Something takes on a life of its own and re-energizes the whole effort. Best part of the process. Love the zero draft because: no limitations–say whatever you want! Love revising (even though it’s very hard) because: getting better! And love love love surprise sparkles wherever they occur.


  9. What a terrific post! I know of a few writers who write the dialogue before anything else. I’ve done that too when I’ve felt stressed and a little lost with the story. It helps me find my way back to the characters who drive the plot. The writing of dialogue (I’m told) is a screenwriting technique.

    While reading your post, I had this image of the Walt Disney fairy sprinkling her fairy dust (it’s sparkly) on all of our manuscripts. Are any of you old enough to remember her?


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