Ah, there you are. Good to see you again.
Y’know, it occurred to me this morning that if I’ve made one discernible bit of progress recently in relation to my writing, it’s almost certainly in my increasing willingness to re-draft.
It may be because I started writing in my teens, using a manual typewriter, so much of what I submitted was – through an equal combination of teenage arrogance and an unwilliness to re-type whole pages – pretty much the first typed draft of the item in question. It seems alien now, with the facility to make changes to entire documents with a few mouse-clicks and keystrokes, but that’s how it used to be; if I decided, for example, that I wanted to rename my central character, that would have meant a whole lot of typing. And besides, with the hubris of youth, I felt my first drafts were works of genius which required no further work.
Well, after a number of years in which a number of my first-pressing masterworks were politely passed on by a number of editors and producers, I came to wonder if maybe I didn’t have a golden-goose-like ability to create perfection first time, and so I began to play at re-drafting.
Now, it might have been prompted by the realisation that acknowledged genius-types like Michelangelo did rough drafts first, or reading that A Fish Called Wanda went through 13 drafts – whatever the reason, I started to finish things, and then go over them again.
And to my surprise, I found it rather enjoyable.
Granted, there’s something immensely satisfying about getting something right first time, but frequently, I find I’m better off giving things another go – usually by printing it off, grabbing my red pen, and being callous about the bits I’m most proud of. Living each day as if it were your last sounds like a great idea, but I somehow doubt that’s the way to go about making great art (or anything on the rungs of the ladder leading up to ‘great’ – I don’t kid myself about my ability).
In its way, though, I’m increasingly finding that the act of re-drafting, and re-re-re-drafting and so on, is one I derive some intellectual satsifaction from; not because I’m pleased to have found a duff line or a scene that doesn’t really advance the story, but because spotting it means I can eliminate it from this draft before it goes out, and it reduces the chances of me making the same mistake again. And that can’t hurt.
I’m very much aware that this is probably no revelation to many of you, but for me, this more-recent-than-I-really-care-to-admit discovery has been something of an eye-opener, and rather than the re-drafting seeming like some kind of chore, I’ve actually come to enjoy it – I invariably feel that the work’s better for it, and that I’ve learned something, howsoever small, about writing.
Given that I enjoy the ideas stage, and the first draft, and the process of re-drafting, it actually means that more of the practice of writing is enjoyable. Yes, it’s going over old ground to some extent, but I’d rather do that and make the work shine, as opposed to sending it out into the world with its promise buried beneath its imperfections.
(Incidentally, I don’t want to discount the input of other folks here – Chip, Dom, and most recently Laurence have all provided me with loads of useful and friendly comments and suggestions, and I tip my hat to them all.)
And the pleasing conclusion to all this – well, pleasing for me, it may well leave you utterly cold – is that I seem to be getting a better handle on what works and what doesn’t, and that means I spend less time on the stuff which doesn’t work. As much as my past self would flinch at the idea that I could write anything other than absolute perfection, I think it’s probably healthier for me to accept that possibility and find ways to exclude the garbage.
Right, that pretty much covers what I wanted to say about redrafting, so I’ll stop here… though, as you can probably guess from the preceding, that means I’ll be running through this blog post again to try to make sure it makes some kind of sense, so I’ll just head back up to the first line of it.
If you want to meet me there, I’ll be just beneath the title.