Divergent and Convergent Writing

As many people will tell you, whether you ask them or not, good writing is really about what you don’t write, rather than what you do. Brevity has immense value.

What may not be apparent is that you need to write prolifically and then begin the process of fearless removal.

As Blaise Pascal said (originally in French):

If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.

Blaise Pascal

This allows two distinct phases in writing.

When the creative juices are flowing you can simply go with it. The words can spill onto the page. You don’t need to concern yourself with brevity because you are forming delicate ideas. You should avoid jolting yourself from the flow. This is the divergent stage where you generate ideas and scatter words across the pages.

When the moment had passed, you’ll need to check the details that your creative-self pays little or no attention to. This is the disciplined convergent stage. You need to remove unnecessary text, get the story straight, and generally represent the best interests of your readers.

Today I reached the 50,000 word milestone for The Vanishing Room. In the back of my mind I’m aware that I should land in the 60,000 to 80,000 word range; but I’ll need to exceed that by some margin before editing it down to length. In fact, if the edit brought it back down to 40,000 words, and I believed the book was the best it could be; I’d abandon the target range without a second thought.

Many authors have been pushed into larger word counts, either by requirement or by reward – and it usually results in a diminished work. The Vanishing Room will expand before it contracts, but I want to ensure that whatever remains is the best way to tell the story.


S. M. Fenton