Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Finding the Balance

Reading Kristin Jantz's post on first drafts (see the previous post - thankyou Carol) along with a great collection of responses, on the official Clarion blog, makes me think about how many different pathways there are for writers in terms of their 'process' when it comes to drafting. Some express a preference - or need - for getting down an entire first draft, without interrupting the flow of the creative 'right brain', then working back through with 'left brain' edits and revisions. Others take the painstaking route of editing every paragraph as they go, since they find the process of 'mass editing' very heavy going. Others look for a middle road of light editing/tweaking during the first draft's progress, but without being exacting enough to really pull it to a halt, and then come back with major edits and revisions once the draft is complete.

Personally, as I've been cultivating a more aware 'craft' of writing over the last couple of years, what I've noticed is distinct differences in my approach depending on the nature of what I'm writing, and also how that approach is shifting, with time and experience. Poems, which are highly condensed and focussed creatures, hit the page/screen pretty much fully formed via stream of consciousness. With poetry, more than any other form, I find it vital not to interrupt the flow of words, lines, bite-sized phrases...and I find the less interrupted that flow is during writing, the less editing I need to do at the end, if any.

With short stories, this applies to some extent. Flash fiction I've tended to treat as a 'prose poem' in terms of writing-state-of-mind; it's still small enough to treat as stream of consciousness with little effort. And again, the post-op editing tends to be minimal. A longer length short story takes a slightly different approach. Character and plot, by necessity, take on a more substantial presence, and require more thought in terms of how they play out in the overall story arc. What I'm finding is that as my writing confidence grows, and less focus needs to be given to my starting point problems of style (particularly the tendency to overwrite!), stories of up to 5000 words or so, which would have taken days, if not weeks, to get down and then edit, revise, and re-edit, are materialising with greater ease and fewer edits and revisions.

Currently, I'm drafting in one or two sittings, allowing myself to edit as I go, up to a point. If my mind starts to tighten up about a particular element, whatever it is, I either let it go and keep writing (knowing I'll revisit it later) or sit back and ask the character/s involved what the problem is....because sometimes it can be an indication that the initial plot concept is asking for a change. And if I can give myself the space to stop and sort it out at this precise point where it feels like I've hit a 'hump', then it can save doing an awful lot of work at the end.

This approach has now filtered across to the novels, and they are benefiting from it. I'm allowing myself to tweak - but only a little - during the first draft, then at the end of each scene go back and do a light edit. This gives my 'right brain' time to relax, refresh, recharge for the next onslaught of intoxicating inspiration (yes, I *love* first drafting), and stops my 'left brain' from getting bored and grumbling in the background.

The combination approach seems to be working for me; each day I have the same level of pleasure and excitement about my 'writing time' (which varies, depending on Real Life). And if the flow has to be interrupted mid-scene, leaving it mid-sentence helps me to jump straight back into the action again. If the interruption is prolonged, then just re-reading the scene in progress is usually enough to get the flow going again. I am also happy not be faced with a mountain of rewriting/editing at the end of the draft (though that, of course, can happen, if I decide a major element needs to change). However, the combined writing/soft editing road seems to be creating a balance that works for me, at this stage in my writing journey at least.

What are your experiences? Do you have one approach that works for you all the time, across the board? Or are you experimenting with different processes, maybe different processes with different forms of writing? Has your approach evolved over time?
Whatever it is, remember to keep it fun. And if you're not having fun with it, that too might be a signal for change.


  1. For me, the moment first drafting stops being fun is usually a sign that I have to either look at what I've already got and see if I've missed picking up an important thread or backtrack and find a new direction .

  2. Yes, same for me, Carol. Sometimes it can mean the scene needs to be written from a different viewpoint character, or that the character/s I'm working with are calling out for more development before that moment when it stopped being fun. I do find that if the characters are functioning strongly, they drive the plot effortlessly. Hmm, that might be another post! :-)

  3. If I run out of creative oomph, I edit. Then when the muse returns, I write some more. The result is,of course, that my books end up with polished first halves and seriously patchy second halves!

  4. I am thinking editing is just as creative as writing the original draft, these days. You still need to have the vision, the flair, the craft and drive to do it, just as much as the first draft!