Useful Gifts for Writers: The 10% Solution by Ken Rand

This is the most useful book on writing I have ever found, and it’s the only one I will actually buy to give to people. I ended up writing the introduction to the 10th anniversary edition, because I know the publisher and, well, I’ll let that introduction tell its own story. The “Patrick” referred to in it is Patrick Swenson, the publisher who owns Fairwood Press.

For the past few years, I have been covertly getting people to go up to Patrick at conventions and ask when the electronic edition of this book would appear. Why? It might be that I have a prankish mind that was devoted to making him believe there was a vast groundswell awaiting this book. But actually, that’s the truth, because I’ve been pushing this book for years, less for prankish reasons than because I think it’s so useful for new writers.

The 10% Solution is not a cure to all your writing woes. It’s not a tool that helps with everything. But it is a great little book that will make you a better writer if you use it at the right stage in the process. The time to employ it is in that last pass before you send the story out into the world. I think of it as a lint-brush, something that tidies things up and makes sure every sentence that you’re sending out into the world to represent you is doing so beautifully, showing off that you can construct clear and error-free sentences that do exactly what you want them to be doing.

I don’t remember the circumstances when I first ran across The 10% Solution, but I do know that since then I have given out multiple copies and recommended it to literally hundreds of people. Why? Because it works and effectively shows you how to polish a piece of work in a way that shows you are at the professional level. For not just fiction but nonfiction.

Yes, it’s a pain in the butt. Yes, the first time you apply it to a manuscript it will be a huge pain in the rear end that may well lead you to curse aloud, calling down vile imprecations on my head. Yup and yup. I’ve been there too. But it’s worth it. After you’ve done it a few times, your unconscious mind gets tired of that labor and begins making changes before you write, tightening up and clarifying your prose in a way that will make it better.

Don’t believe me? Don’t try to apply it to a book then, but test it out with a short story or essay. Do give it a full chance, not skipping any steps, doing the actual “now I am searching on ly, now I am searching on of” steps. And keep a copy of the original, then look at them side by side. If your original prose is so golden that this didn’t substantially improve it, well then, perhaps this is not the book for you. But for the rest of us, it’s an awesome one.

Thank you, Patrick, for finally listening to all those people I kept sending up to you. I swear you won’t regret it. I know I won’t.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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