Divergent Writing: Tips from author Veronica Roth

Am I the last person in the world to read Divergent by Veronica Roth? Okay, so perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration.

Still, even though Divergent sat in my to-read pile for more than a year, I remained fuzzy on the plot. A conversation with my niece, then 13-years-old, didn’t clear up the intricacies: an overview of the story  wandered off into a discussion of what faction we would belong to and how no one’s personality can be defined by a single trait. She was clearly a combination of dauntless and abnegation, and I was left with a vague impression of the houses from Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. After consuming Divergent over the weekend, I now realize how wrong I was.

Ms. Roth’s tale of a dystopian society unfolds in a clean, elegant prose–not a stray adverb or adjective to be found–and the factions reflect the protagonist’s unflinching observations. So it came as no surprise when I read Ms. Roth’s writing advice, among the bonus materials in the back of the book, that her tips contained a straightforward simplicity; although, I’m sure, not particularly easy to implement:

Divergent’s Bonus Materials ~ Writing Tips from Veronica Roth:

Stage One: Word Vomit. (Sorry for the graphic image there.) Just write. Do not reread what you’ve just written, even if you don’t remember it and you want to check it for the sake of consistency. Don’t do it! You will be tempted to edit, and editing before you finish the draft is the enemy of writing progress.

Stage Two: Let it sit for a while. This is a good time for you to reconnect with friends and family you may have neglected while writing, and to recharge your writer batteries, so to speak. Not writing is as important as writing— go out into the world and remember how interesting it, and the people in it, are.

Stage Three: Reread, and make notes. I prefer the Microsoft word in-text comments, but I have also used notebooks. I try to write down big, plot-or-character- shifting things the first time I reread. Like “remove this character” or “the end has to happen differently” or “set up this huge plot element earlier in the story.”

Stage Four (view spoiler): Rip draft to shreds. The phrase “murder your darlings” (meaning: the stuff in your manuscript that you love best is probably the stuff that needs to go- and you have to be willing to get rid of it) has been important to me in developing as a writer. I try to make it a big, dramatic event wherein I save my old draft, copy past the text into a new document, and start deleting huge sections of text. It hurts, but it’s oddly-liberating. The story can become something new now- something better than it was before, something it couldn’t become if you clung to everything.

Stage Five: Start writing again.


What do you think? Good advice?