Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In which a writer learns from the dreck in the draft.

This week, while revising a 1,000 word personal essay, I dropped the pages of the first draft on the floor and did a double take when they scattered, when I noticed something kind of odd. On each page, in at least two places, I'd drawn a straight line through the final line of a paragraph; over the five pages, that amounted to about 10 paragraphs where I'd deleted the last sentence.

What was going on here?

Twice before on the blog I've written about writing past the ending of a piece, and how I've occasionally find the real ending by lopping off the last sentence or even paragraph. But this was something else. Here, the deletions came throughout the piece.

I sat down to reread the draft I'd just edited to see what was going on. I found that those paragraph-ending sentences either: just didn't fit, or were clever but really not important, or were interesting but belonged in another future piece. A few made me wince because I'd already made the same point a few sentences back, but obviously wasn't confident enough in my own prose.

Only two of those chopped-off sentences were placed elsewhere within the essay.

As I thought about how the piece had developed both in terms of the idea (which came to me in a bit of an OMG flash), and the urgency of meeting a tighter than usual deadline, I realized I had compressed some writing steps, heading straight from idea flash to first draft, without any of the usual thinking/prewriting/planning/mind dump I like to employ before that official first draft.

That's not always a bad thing, and for short pieces like that, it happens frequently when an idea and the narrative arc and most of the words all collide almost simultaneously, and my brain screams for me to get it on the page immediately.

The essay was completed, submitted, accepted.

But the experience made me wonder what other writing-revising-editing patterns I may be missing, and reminded me of the value of keeping older drafts and occasionally looking back over them to see what I might learn.

1 comment:

kate hopper said...

So fascinating. I'm going to send this link to my students--we've been discussing revision and the importance of keeping copies of older drafts. Perfect timing!