“Open-Pit” Writing

There are several different ways of getting gold from the ground.  On one end of the spectrum is open-pit mining where they blast huge sections of dirt with dynamite and then screen and process the rubble.  On the other is panning, where silt is taken from a river bank and flecks of gold are tediously pulled one speck at a time from the pan.

I am under the impression that most writers use a “panning” type approach to getting their words on to the page.  They allow thoughts to swirl around in their heads until they can pluck out the golden tidbits.  This takes huge amounts of time during the initial drafting phase because each word has been carefully considered before being typed.  When the drafting phase is over there are very few major changes or rewrites that need to be made

Mine is a different approach, I tend to draft the same way an open-pit mine obtains their precious minerals, by shoveling out huge amounts of rubble on the page.  Later, I return to pick out all the good bits and discard or reshape the rest. Some days I get more rubble than gold, but some days I strike it rich.  It’s hard to tell when the words and thoughts will flow.

This might seem like a terrific waste of time but it has its benefits.  An open-pit mine reaps much more than the target mineral.   I happen to live a few miles off from the Kennecott copper mine, the second largest producer of copper in the country and the largest man-made excavation on the planet – it can be seen from space.  Every year they pull out around 300,000 tons of copper.  In addition to copper they also get the following:

  • 500,000 ounces of gold
  • 4 million ounces of silver
  • 30 million pounds of molybdenum

While “open-pit” writing might seem unproductive  at first, it often generates valuable ideas, information, and material that can be used to strengthen the work.  Some of these ideas will never make it to the final edit, but they add flavor and depth to the world.

I’m curious if I’m right – how many of you consider yourselves “panners” vs. “open-pit” writers?


About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
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11 Responses to “Open-Pit” Writing

  1. aardvarkian says:

    I’m an open-pit merchant – and I’m proud to be so 🙂

  2. For me I thnk it depends on the starter idea. Sometimes the idea is so strong that the whole thing blossoms almost fully, and I just can’t wait to start writing. My next (NaNoWriMo) book is that way. Can’t wait.

  3. mlknudsen66 says:

    That’s interesting, because I think I’m a hybrid miner. My first draft is always crappy, but I’m so conditioned (by college writing classes, curse them!) to be terse that you can’t call it “open pit” by any stretch. My 2nd draft is longer and better, and the third is about 10% shorter. That usually turns into the final, revised draft after a lot more work.

    • oldancestor says:

      That’s exactly how I’d describe my process, except I just keep passing through from beginning to end until I like it or I can’t stand to look at it anymore. Usually the latter.

  4. Agatha82 says:

    Without even realising it, I wrote my entire novel using that “open-pit” approach you mention. Next time, I’d doing exactly the opposite and will try panning because I did not enjoy the mess I had to sort out…

  5. My first novel was drafted during last year’s nanowrimo and was very open pit with no outline or for thought. After a summer of panning and polishing, I will try to make my next novel (yr two nanowrimo) a little of each.

  6. nrhatch says:

    Like your analogies . . . I used the Alaska Gold Rush as an analogy to the odds of striking it rich as a writer:


    While writing a first draft, I tend edit as I go. So, a bit more like panning than open pit mining.

    But there’s still a lot of rubble in the mix so that re-writing is rarely a breeze.

    Writers going for the gold face long odds, but landing in a slush pile is better than dying in a pile of slush!

  7. I’m definitely an “open pit” writer. I love rewriting and editing, so this method works beautifully for me.

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