Finding the right story-strand.

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 theSpiderinwebL_tcm4-571483 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…


5 thoughts on “Finding the right story-strand.

  1. How we work is personal, and we can listen to as much advice as is out there but the in the end, Cath, we do what suits us best. And if that means breaking the so-called ‘rules’, so be it. In England there is the idea that writing is all about talent, and can’t be taught unless you have talent. While that has a lot of mileage, the belief in the States is different.
    There are many writers out there, and here are a few ‘tips’ from them.
    “Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.” ─ Jane Smiley
    “It is better to write a bad first draft than to write no first draft at all.” ─ Will Shetterly
    “Getting a first draft done is like pushing a peanut with your nose across a very dirty floor.” ─ Joyce Carol Oates
    “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so later I can build castles.” ─ Shannon Hale
    “You can always fix crap. You can’t fix a blank page.” Christina Dodd
    “First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about.” ─ Bernard Malamud
    “All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” ─ Erica Jong
    “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” ─ Robert Cormier
    “By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” ─ Roald Dahl
    “Very few writers know what they’re doing until they’ve done it.” ─ Annie Lamott
    “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” Terry Pratchett
    “Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” ─ Michael Crichton
    “It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly.” ─ C. J. Cherryh
    “No thinking – that comes later. You write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is… to write, not to think!” ─ Sean Connery as William Forrester in Finding Forrester
    “The first draft of anything is shit.” Ernest Hemingway

    Sorry this is so long, Cath but I use this list for my own creative writing courses.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Pullman advice draws attention to the old problem – writing is all about finding out what happens as opposed to filling in the details of a pre-organised plot. Drafting, planning, same thing maybe …


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