Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fast writing and ball dropping

I'm working on a new book proposal, about which more later. My current self-imposed deadline is tomorrow so I can give it to the Wyrdsmiths before I send it off to my agent. The process has me really thinking about writing again for the first time in a while. I'm writing fast at the moment which means that I'm dropping some of the balls I'm juggling. This is not a big deal, as I will pick them up again on the polish pass--as I usually do--but it's very interesting to see which balls are getting lost at this stage. They fall into three main categories:

1) Sentence level stuff. In particular, articles. The faster I write the less I write "the." I think that's my brain not typing bits that can easily be inserted later. updated to add: Also conjunctions. Apparently this post was written fast as I missed at least one above--at least that's what Laura tells me.

2) Smells and other sensory details. As my focus narrows I lose senses, starting with smell. This is a mirror of the real world. I don't have a great sense of smell to start with and on top of that I have the ability/liability to focus on what I'm doing so intensely that a lot of things get sort of grayed out as I'm working intensely on something. It's nice that when I do that I can block out the cat barfing in the hall. It's less so that I block out being hungry, having to go to the bathroom, and at really intense levels, things like my tendons screaming that I need to take a break right now or I'll pay for it later.

3) Character descriptions, and this is the one that really tells me I'm writing up at the edge of what I can do in terms of speed and still remain coherent. I'm a plot and world focused writer and that means that all my character skills are a deliberate effort of craft layered on top of the bedrock stuff. It's a deeply laid skill set at this point, deep enough that I no longer need to think about it at the conscious level much, and I haven't dropped it in years. But yesterday I swapped the gender of one of the minor characters and as I was making the changes I realized I hadn't described them at all because that wasn't an important aspect of the plot function they were originally serving. However, the change will bring them deeper into the story and at that level what they look like becomes important enough that not knowing what they looked like rang bells for me.

Which brings me back to my polish pass comment. At this point in my writing life what I turn in to my editor is very close to what I think of as my first actual draft—the stuff I hand to Wyrdsmiths—after I've read through the rough again and fixed sentences, put in (some*) sensory detail, and done things like describing minor characters. I sometimes forget that there even is a step between putting it on the page and handing it in, because polish typically happens in an hour or two the day before we meet, and I don't have to pay a lot of forebrain attention to it. Despite that it's a critical step and one that probably doesn't get talked about enough by experienced writers.

So, what about you? What do you have to add between rough and first reading? Are there things you habitually have to go back and correct, or is it an ever-changing process?

*There are always more details added after Wyrdsmiths, especially smells, plus larger fixes.


Beth said...

Second draft is the hard work. Senses and detailed descriptions appear, hads and justs and alreadys disappear. Loose ends followed. The story is pretty much done when I claim the second draft finished.

Third is just polishing, tweaking, making sure it all flows. And makes sense! Of course there aren't really just 3 drafts, but I'd feel like a hobbit if I referred to second version of second draft...

Douglas Hulick said...

My rough draft is what you guys read in meeting. This may help explain why I am a slower writer, since I will stop to worry over a pharse or description of a missing sense. Some weeks it is a bit rougher than others, but overall I strive for a pretty clean first copy (although I don't usually spell check or scan for dropped articles, etc.).

Kelly Swails said...

I have to remember smells and other sensory perceptions, like touch and hearing. When I'm writing fast everything except sight goes. I always have to layer feelings in, too; my first goal is to get the plot down. Then I go back and let the characters tell me how they feel about what just went down.

jen@ywt said...

Fascinatingly different approach to draft work! I'm prone to adding extra articles and prepositions and have to go through cutting them later. Emotions and sensory details are outrageously powerful for me in the material world and my pencil drafts reflect this so I have to go tamping that down too as I come up to a typed draft. We overlap on physical descriptions of characters, though, and even though my emphasis is much more on character dynamics, complete physical descriptions are still among the last things to happen for me creatively.

I'm glad you brought up the polish phase. It is the place where my stupid chronic illness(tm) is presenting the biggest problem as I'm re-learning how to write. My draft work is not much slower, but the brain-fog has stalled my ability to polish for weeks, sometimes months. I just can't get my mind to hold onto the whole well enough to make the right tweaks, almost like a computer with insufficient RAM that can only take in a limited amount of data before it freezes, goes blank and reboots. Trying to find productive ways of dealing with this is actually changing my writing voice, which feels even weirder than listening to a tape recording of myself.

Jon said...

I found the second draft almost as easy as the first. It was all wide cuts and add ins. It was the third and fourth, the close in work, that were the killers for me.