Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ragged hollow first drafts

I like what Walter Mosley has to say about revision here on his website:

"First drafts are ragged hollow things that need to be revised, rephrased, and rethought again and again until something transcendent occurs on the page; until the story becomes life."

He notes that, for him, rewriting has become second nature, even for emails and memos, and that constant rewriting "borders on obsession, but there's nothing wrong with that."

I agree. And I think the more you write, the more skilled you become at rewriting...spotting the glimmers of gold among the sludge. I've found revision is the real work and real pleasure of writing fiction; and when you hit "the zone," where all time stops and your focus is in another dimension...that's da bomb.

btw, I regularly recommend Walter Mosley's no-nonsense yet inspirational book This Year You Write Your Novel to folks in my workshops. It's so very wise: "Your first draft is like a rich uncultivated field for the farmer: it is waiting for you to bring it into full bloom."
Here's the opening:

The first thing you have to know about writing is that it is something you must do every day—every morning or every night, whatever time it is that you have. Ideally, the time you decide on is also the time when you do your best work.

There are two reasons for this rule: getting the work done and connecting with your unconscious mind.

If you want to finish this novel of yours within a year, you have to get to work! There’s not a moment to lose. There’s no time to wait for inspiration. Getting your words down on the page takes time. How much? I write three hours every morning. It’s the first thing I do, Monday through Sunday, fifty-two weeks a year. Some days I miss but rarely does this happen more than once a month. Writing is a serious enterprise that takes a certain amount of constancy and rigor.

But will and regularity are only the beginnings of the discipline and rewards that daily writing will mean for you.

The most important thing I’ve found about writing is that it is primarily an unconscious activity. What do I mean by this? I mean that a novel is larger than your head (or conscious mind). The connections, moods, metaphors, and experiences that you call up while writing will come from a place deep inside you. Sometimes you will wonder who wrote those words. Sometimes you will be swept up by a fevered passion relating a convoluted journey through your protagonist’s ragged heart. These moments are when you have connected to some deep place within you, a place that harbors the zeal that made you want to write to begin with.

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