Sometimes we need to be reminded of the obvious. As one of those tutors who likes to stress the importance of re-drafting, this week I was forced to think about what I do when I came across this Phillip Pulman quote:
I don’t agree with the emphasis that teachers lay on drafting. I never write drafts – I write final versions. I might write a dozen final versions of the same story, but with each one I set out to write it as a final version.
Is this a good point?
I agree that we should aim for excellence in all our drafts, and intend them to be flawless. But, I’m not sure that this approach is encouraging to the less experienced writer.
In my own case, one of the most liberating discoveries I made was that great writing is usually achieved through a process of re-draftings. George Eliot’s notebooks of Middlemarch, scribbled over with extra ideas and corrections, were reassuring. I can’t say whether she thought of them as drafts or final versions, what I needed to understand, was that she re-worked her writing.
Most good writers do the same. We just don’t always have evidence of that available.
I share this revelation with my writing groups, because too many people doubt their abilities if they don’t create a flawless and beautiful piece of writing at the first try.
On the other hand, when drafting there are times when it feels as if I’m wandering in the midst of a labyrinth, and Ariadne hasn’t just supplied me with a single story thread, I’ve got a fist full of possible routes. Pulman’s suggestion offers a sensible solution: stop dithering, go back to the beginning and start again.
Sounds like a reworking of the solution another spider offered to Robert the Bruce. There’s never just the one rule in writing, it seems…