Wednesday, January 17, 2024

More on ducks and finding the path

 Donis's post on rewriting struck a chord with me. The first draft is always a challenge. Fashioning a story out of nothingness is like standing at the edge of an unknown wilderness, full of towering trees, desolate desert, and swamp in the dead of night, with only a vague idea drawing me forward. I grope my way through the darkness with little more than a flashlight illuminating the possible path ahead. Sometimes the path is smooth and easy, and I can sail ahead confidently. Other times, I come to a dead-end or a fork and flounder around trying to scan ahead for the best route. And there are, of course, those times when I am sailing along a smooth path and suddenly trip on a hidden root or rock, falling flat on my face.

Still, I carry on, because somewhere out there is the best path that leads to the end of the story. And once I've arrived at the end, I can see where I am and what path I've travelled to get there. I see what story I am telling, despite all its roughness, redundancy, and wrong turns. The whole path is lit up, and I can go back and forth along it, getting rid of dead-ends and irrelevancies, smoothing the path, creating visual interest and surprises, even adding twists to keep it interesting and to keep the traveller guessing what comes next. 

Although, like Donis, I don't rewrite or fix anything while writing the first draft, partly so I don't block my creative momentum but also because until the story is all laid out in rough, I can't be sure what needs fixing or how. But since I write longhand and rewrite once it's on the computer, there is some initial rewriting that occurs while I am transcribing onto the computer. I do transcribe at regular intervals so I don't face the daunting task of typing out 500 pages of scribbled mess all at the end.

Also when writing first draft, I keep a running file on my computer of all the bits that I may have to change, add, or delete during the rewrites. Everything from adjusting characters' backstories to inserting scenes or moving scenes around, changing the weather, etc. Otherwise when writing in this "wing-it" style, I might forget them all. 

It takes many rewrites and partial rewrites to get the story to the best I can make it, and even now, having just sent my latest WIP off to the publisher, I am still rewriting in my head and can think of more improvements to make when it comes back to me.

There is no one way to write a novel. Some writers outline, others hate outlines, some write detailed character backstories, others get to know their characters as the story evolves. Some write longhand to tap into their imagination, while others love the speed and ease of computers. Some keep side files, others post-in notes or index cards. The one rule is that every novel needs multiple rewrites to be its best self.

1 comment:

Anna Chapman said...

Barbara, thanks for this illuminating look into your writing process along with the recognition that we each find our own. I'm especially struck by your practice of typing up your ms at intervals to avoid dealing with the whole load at the end -- also by the running file of bits and pieces that will have to be changed. So very practical!