Frontispiece, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

2600 Paragraphs, One Sentence at a Time

Karin Kallmaker Craft of Writing, Kiss That Counted

This time they spoke more, whispered love, encouragement, needy things. Some of the emotion was slaked and now their bodies woke in familiar ways. There, more and yes flowed between them, even when words were impossible. – The Kiss that Counted (216)

Jane Austen is reputed to have written Pride and Prejudice in two drafts. Considering that it was written in longhand, with ink from a well, one can imagine how long she struggled with a sentence before committing it to paper. Computers have spoiled me; I didn’t begin to write truly well until I had a process that could keep up with my thoughts, and that produced a result I could read. My own handwriting was insufficient on both counts.

Cover, The Kiss that Counted

Having the luxury of instantaneous editing — not even the hindrance of dot.commands and disks to swap—has made my approach to writing a fluid one. Words form, I type, the flow stops, I lift my fingers. I mull over machine, device, keyboard and choose process. Each noun prompted a clause to follow, each picked over and discarded, fingers typing and backspacing all the while. Before I finish a paragraph I’ve likely written, censored, reconsidered, hashed, discarded and finalized it a dozen times. A paragraph builds to a scene, a scene to a chapter and finally all to a finished draft.

In the first half of a new work, I begin each new text by rereading—and editing—what I’ve already written. Since I compose over anywhere from two to four months, nearly every day, the first paragraph of any novel has been edited a hundred times, then reviewed by a real editor, and edited again at least twice more in my final passes.

All this has made me prone to edit on the fly, to fiddle with everything like a poodle with a squeak toy. I’m used to thinking of my manuscripts in terms of words, but it causes a mild shock to realize that 85,000 words is 2,600 paragraphs, most of them picked over dozens of times. Before I’m completely boggled at the thought, I have to admit that sometimes…sometimes…I write something and never change it. It’s not that it’s perfect, it’s that it is perfect for its purpose. Sometimes, the muse gets it right the very first time.

She had clung so long to the idea that she was set apart from other women, but here she was, as mushy as a dime store greeting card. It was weirdly comforting to know she felt things that millions of other women felt. Comforting to think that in the matter of love she might really be…normal. – The Kiss that Counted (241)

The Kiss that Counted is on its way to print. My last chance to squeak it is past. The quotation at the top of this entry is one of those edited a hundred times. And this one — well, I don’t believe I changed a word. The happiest result is that only I, at least I hope, know that I agonized over one and the other flowed like magic.

Copyrighted material.