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The drafting process

The drafting process doesn’t come naturally to me, and as such, at times I find it frustrating. During my early development as a writer, I was extremely compelled to edit as I wrote, and if I couldn’t figure out just how I wanted to phrase something, I wouldn’t write it. That lead to nothing ever getting written, as that level of perfectionism is the enemy of creativity. It wasn’t until I started telling myself to just write SOMETHING, no matter how bad it was, no matter how far away from what I was envisioning, that I started actually making progress.

Of course, when you finally start working that way, you need to next confront the challenge that is the process of revising. This too did not come naturally to me. Most of the time, when I write something flawed I can tell that there’s something not right about it— though not always, never discount the value of other sets of eyes —but just couldn’t figure out how to do it properly instead. I am subjected to the feeling of “Well, if I knew what it was supposed to be, I would have written it that way the first time!” Which is of course an utter fallacy, but it’s one I have to work through.

The two ways I combat this are as follows. First I resign myself to the fact that the first draft is going to suck. I don’t shoot for “good” or “accurate” the first time around; I just shoot for finished. I get some semblance of a complete telling of my story. I chunk it down into small pieces; scenes are usually for me the most convenient. When that first very, very rough draft is finished, then I like to do a second pass, seeing if any easy or obvious fixes jump out at me. The result of that, which I continue to pick at, becomes draft two.

The second things is having friends come over to read the script and give opinions. That has been amazingly helpful for me. It gives me fresh perspectives, and allows me a little bit of critical distance that enables me to see what I wrote in a new way. That often gets me passed that “if I knew how it should be I would have written it that way the first time” feeling. I’m so lucky and grateful for friends who come over and do this for me; I owe them so much. I then do the next round of edits based on their comments. Often I have a reading of this third draft as well, and that second round of responses often leads to the more or less finalized version.

And now I’m writing about writing in order to procrastinate writing. That’s enough of that! Back to the work that got me thinking about this in the first place.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
lisefrac
Jul. 15th, 2014 08:08 pm (UTC)
It wasn’t until I started telling myself to just write SOMETHING, no matter how bad it was, no matter how far away from what I was envisioning, that I started actually making progress.

Amen to that. There was a saying we threw around at VP: you can't edit the blank page.

I think this is a problem a lot of beginning writers have--actually getting stuff down, and finishing their work. This is why I think NaNoWriMo is so important at a certain point in the learning process, as it teaches you to write (almost) every day, and to just put words down, even if they're the wrong ones. Other challenges (like your 31 plays) or writing prompts are valuable for similar reasons.

That said, now that I feel I can reliably finish stuff, I do allow myself some more leeway to edit as I write. I re-read my work from time to time, and fix obvious things--wording, inconsistencies, etc. But if I'm doing a wordcount-based challenge, something like Camp NaNo, like I am this month, I do temporarily suspend that urge.

But yeah. Drafting is picking out the stone; revising is chiseling away everything that isn't the statue.
elenuial
Jul. 15th, 2014 10:47 pm (UTC)
I think this is a problem a lot of beginning writers have--actually getting stuff down, and finishing their work. This is why I think NaNoWriMo is so important at a certain point in the learning process, as it teaches you to write (almost) every day, and to just put words down, even if they're the wrong ones. Other challenges (like your 31 plays) or writing prompts are valuable for similar reasons.

I actually didn't have this problem until after I went the Writer Camp. I think it made my internal editor too strong. I can moderate it with booze, but history shows how that usually ends up being a terrible idea.

Usually, though, when I've talked to people who are revise-as-you-go, the switch wasn't changing their style (like P. here) so much as doing things like having better planning or having a limit on in-process revisions. It's interesting to me to see you guys talk about doing the traditional "fuck it for the first draft" process instead. It's a trick I've never been able to get the hang of.
lisefrac
Jul. 16th, 2014 01:21 pm (UTC)
I definitely struggled a little bit more with my internal editor after writing camp. It was especially hard to go from these critiques by authors I admire to having to write a piece of short fiction to a prompt. Somehow, I was able to do it. It kind of felt like my mind just shifted into the right gear.

I dunno, I have no good advice, I guess. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.
witticaster
Jul. 16th, 2014 03:15 pm (UTC)
I...yeah. Thank you. I should learn these things. I still almost always write for perceived perfection, and thus never get past the first area that stumps me. And when I look at old, flawed writing, I'm too discouraged by it to continue. Which means that the only things I've ever finished are quick and tiny. I enjoy them, but they're flashes, not anything of substance.
jducoeur
Jul. 16th, 2014 05:58 pm (UTC)
Interesting. The same is mostly true of programming -- indeed, I've gradually learned that the most common and worst mistake you can make in programming is over-thinking things. The best code usually arises from getting a rough idea of what you're doing, slamming out the code, and then "refactoring" (revising) it afterwards.

In programming, we've gradually developed something of a discipline around refactoring: an ever-growing list of specific problems to look out for (usually called "bad smells"), and common options for how to improve them. Does anything of the sort exist in writing, or does everyone just wing it?

There may be no cognate discipline -- it may not even be a sensible question in writing -- but I'm struck by how your writing process resembles my programming one...
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

About Me

My name is Phoebe. I'm Boston area theater professional and English professor focused in writing, acting, directing, and modeling. I'm known for having lots of interests, lots of opinions about those interests, and a very high estimation of the value thereof. This blog is for talking about whatever's on my mind, from my daily life to my activities to musing on any number of abstract topics. Thanks for taking the time to read.

My productions:

Upcoming Productions:



MRS. HAWKING part 2 and 3


at the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016

presented by The Chameleon's Dish

Vivat Regina
by Phoebe Roberts

at 2PM

and

Base Instruments
by Phoebe Roberts

at 6PM

Saturday, May 13th 2017
at 274 Moody Street, Waltham, MA

Other Achievements:

"The Tailor at Loring's End" screenplay
Quarter Finalist in the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Competition 2013

"Adonis" screenplay
Top Ten Percent in the Bluecat Screenwriting Contest 2015

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