Oh, how I love the bracket trick.

I love revisions. (I know, you’re about to ask—which demon rose from depths of hell and is currently wearing a writer coat?) I just think it’s incredibly fun to take a rough piece of coal and polish it into a diamond.

But first drafts have their charms, too. You don’t have to impress anyone — not even yourself. In a first draft, you can just knock the firehose to full and let it all out. Every crazy idea, every silly dream, every possible plot twist. The worst that can happen is a deleted scene lovingly saved in another document for use later on. One of my friends is saving them to post on her Patreon; another, to read during her book tour.

Nobody has to see any of it if you don’t want them to! That’s the sheer thrill of drafting. Nobody needs to see your first draft. Nobody needs to even know you’re writing it. That freedom can be intoxicating. You can do whatever you want. In drafting, there are no rules. Nobody’s judging you. Your crit partner, your editor, and the other writers on your Slack don’t need to know what you’re doing. You can cackle as hard as you want. Some of the best surprises happen when you give yourself permission to throw paint at the wall like a million-dollar Jackson Pollock painting

While you’re throwing words against the wall, try the Bracket Strategy. Having a problem? Stuck? Simply don’t want to write something right now? Drop a quick summary in brackets, and move on. In the sequel to Architects of Memory, I was totally not interested in writing a particular fight scene one day, even though I’d reached a point in the draft where characters were punching each other left and right. I put [insert fight scene here] and moved on with more interesting things, making my wordcount for the day rather than getting stuck in the mud. When you’re done with the draft, simply search for “[” and discover what you still need to write.

The advantage of the Bracket Strategy is that you can not only write things later when you feel more like it—but, quite often, these bracketed parts turn out to be things you don’t actually need in the first place, making it easier to cut wordcount or increase your pacing.

Sometimes, feeling like you want to put brackets in a draft is also a signal that you don’t actually need the scene—it’s not a case of you not wanting to write it, but instead a case of your magical writer spidey senses identifying that you need to rethink your chapter. Remember that fight scene I mentioned above? It was the last scene left at the very end of my drafting process, and after giving the whole thing a bit of a read, I discovered that what we really needed there was a deep character moment with a person with whom we hadn’t spent a lot of time with until that point.

Since I’m a pantser who loves revision, I have to strip all of the extra stuff out of my process if I want to work as fast as planner-style pros, so sometimes I’ll rely on the Very Detailed Synopsis. In this method, you simply keep on expanding on your synopsis in sheer-delight pantser discovery mode, little by little, until you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing. You might have 50k by then, and know exactly where you’re going—but you’ve still had the delightful experience of having come up with it on the fly.

But most of all, make drafting fun, however you can. We spend enough time staring down that blank page–so why not?

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Karen Osborne

KAREN OSBORNE is a writer, visual storyteller and violinist. Her short fiction appears in Escape Pod, Robot Dinosaurs, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny and Fireside. She is a member of the DC/MD-based Homespun Ceilidh Band, emcees the Charm City Spec reading series, and once won a major event filmmaking award for taping a Klingon wedding. Her debut novel, Architects of Memory, is forthcoming in 2020 from Tor Books.

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