Thursday, October 2, 2008


The particulars of writing - the small, physical details - are an eternal fascination to writers (beginning, would-be and veteran), so let's talk about that. Keep in mind, however, that what works for me might not work for you.

Longhand, longhand: I am a devout fan of hand-writing. There's nothing more liquid for the permanent codification of ideas than the easy flow of thoughts from brain to hand to pen to paper. The computer screen, to me, presents entirely too much separation between you and your words. Particulars? Spiral notebooks (for their resistance to abuse) and Papermate Write Bros. light-blue pens (cheapness, inkflow and come on! Black ink? How dull.).

Location, location: A busy coffeehouse, enveloped by that lovely wall of chatter, with plenty of fellow humans to watch when you need a visual respite (there's a physiological, brain-function need for this, BTW - I'll get to it later). A long view is a nice plus, a non-jiggly table an absolute must (apply folded-up newspaper under table legs as needed). And - duh! - some caffeine. A beverage also makes a handy disciplinary device. On a slow day, at least make yourself write until you finish that latte. At this very moment, I'm on a solid window counter at Peete's in San Jose, CA, with a lovely view of the traffic on the Alameda and a solid surface to work on. Comestibles? One strong latte and an ollallieberry scone (because I like to say "ollallieberry"). You may find, as I have, that the largest danger in the coffeehouse is a nearby conversation that is too interesting. Be strong. Move to another table immediately; nothing is more important than your writing. (I almost feel like telling my neighbors, "I'm sorry, I have to move because you're much too intelligent.")

Is there a Draft in here? I'll get more specific later, but following is the rundown of my drafting process:

First: Written as quickly as the pen will fly, as quickly as the thoughts arrive. Think of it as a jigsaw puzzle: you must first pour out all the pieces onto the tabletop so you can begin to sort them out. Remember Hemingway's saying: "Everyone's first draft is shit." Just get it out, baby.

Second: Written a tad more slowly, to allow time for renovation, but still fast and sloppy enough to open up new ideas.

Third: Written as slowly as possible, with a focus on word precision, sentence structure, punctuation - the small stuff.

Fourth:Typing into the dreaded computer. Largely a matter of word processing, but sometimes a garbled sentence will hit the brain-screen and call for a fix.

Fifth: The edit. Print out the completed manuscript and read through it, marking changes with a colored pen as you go. Type changes back into computer.

The Extreme Sixth: For special cases (for instance, my last novel). Take printed-out manuscript and rewrite it longhand, as in the third draft above. Retype the whole thing into the computer. This one is grueling, but does offer a certain reassurance to the author, who can now tell himself that he has been exceedingly thorough.

The Chapter Method: I tend to do my novels a chapter at a time, working them at least through the third draft before going on to the next. This is largely because I work without an outline, so I need to get a firm grip on where my plot and characters stand before I go into the next development.

Shew! Enough for now. I'm sure I'll get further into some of these aspects later. Besides, I just finished my latte.
Photo by MJV

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