Former Nebula nominee, literary leaning, and all around nice guy Jake Kerr talks about his writing process.
Tamago: Do you have a regular drafting process, or does your drafting process vary from book to book. Can you describe it to us generally, or at least for one project?
Jake: It varies. I’ve started from a structural idea (“Requiem in the Key of Prose”) and then moved onto actually creating a story around it, and I’ve started with a single image (A boy creating graffiti that could only be seen in whole from one perspective in “Perspective”) and then wrote the story around how that could mean something to someone, and I’ve plotted a story out from beginning to end (“The Old Equations”).
Generally speaking, I do start with an idea and then I work out all the details in my head. I don’t necessarily write the story in my head, but I ponder the actual story as a narrative–the central conflict, how the characters interact, and the overall theme. When I finally sit down to write, I have a very good idea where I’m going.
Tamago: Which part of writing–drafting, revising, critique from others–do you enjoy the most? Why? The least? Why?
Jake: This is a tough question, because I enjoy the entire journey but for different reasons for each. I like the experience of first writing something because, without fail, I’ll think of something new that will delight me in some way, whether it is a new twist that adds to the story or even a symbol that pops up at the end that ties the whole narrative in a bow. I also like the process of receiving critiques, because–also without fail–I’ll be informed of something stupid I did that is due entirely to my own blind spots. This can be anything from the overuse of a word to something that I think is clear being actually quite confusing. And, finally, I absolutely love to revise. I spend a great deal of time on practically every sentence, and shining and polishing the words for maximum effect is a wonderful experience.
Tamago: In general, how many drafts does it take before you are satisfied with a story or novel?
Jake: Probably around four or five minimum, but it can go significantly higher. I should note that if I receive five critiques I’ll go through the document five times, taking notes and making changes each time as I go through the critique. However, I consider the sum total one draft–the critique draft. I generally do a first draft, a structural second draft where I look for ways to put the story together more effectively, then a prose polishing draft. Then it is off to critique partners, and then I do the critique draft. After that it’s generally one or two more drafts, and I’m done.
Tamago: How do you know when something you’re writing isn’t working?
Jake: Sometimes after the very first draft. I’ll immediately recognize some obvious flaw that didn’t hit me until i wrote the piece. This is not uncommon. Usually, however, it’s after I get a piece of feedback that points out a major flaw that I missed. Sometimes the feedback is very frustrating in that I had a very specific intent in writing the story a certain way, and the effect doesn’t work. I recently wrote a story where the two characters share a consciousness, but the shared pov technique I used went right over the head of the editors. Another time I had a final draft of a novella, and some female readers told me that the very positive theme of the story was completely overwhelmed by the fact that one of the main characters was a young woman who was biologically engineered to be a sex slave. The misogyny in the piece, which was created by design and meant to deliver a positive message in the end, just came across as misogyny. So I trunked the piece, and it was the right thing to do. Sometimes a writer can’t ignore that a piece does not exist in a vacuum.