March 5, 2013

NaCreSoMo #5: Sketching

I did a few big creative-type things today, but most of them are things I've either talked about already or plan to talk about at a later time.

My big thing today was first-drafting one chapter of NEEDS A BETTER CODE NAME. There are books upon books and blogs upon blogs out there of writing advice. How to write, when to write, how much revision to do and how little, how much alcohol should be ingested prior to each writing session... All of which is valuable advice for somebody, but not necessarily for you.

What I've come to understand about my general process is that the first draft of almost everything I write bears only a passing resemblance to the final product. My first drafts are rough sketches--I'm not paying any attention whatsoever to pretty turns of phrase (or at least I'm trying not to). My goal is to get the shape of a scene down on the page. To know that here is a passage describing the castle the knights are riding toward, and here is the argument they have about whether their mothers actually smelt of elderberries or whether that was just French exaggeration.

The actual words are almost irrelevant. I'm lucky if 5% of the words I write while first-drafting actually make it to the next pass. I don't feel bad about replacing all of my words with prettier ones--in fact, I plan on it. For me, this strategy helps me to just get something down on paper without worrying about what it looks like. Did I really just say that Edward's hair was shiny five sentences in a row? Doesn't matter--it's going to change in the next draft anyway! Talking heads nattering back and forth for thirty lines about whose dance slippers are the prettiest? Next draft it'll be two lines--or better yet, a conversation about international politics instead.

Once I have a rough idea of what the scene will look like--who stands where and discusses what with whom--it gets much, much easier to figure out the right words to convey what I'm picturing. In many cases, the first-drafting even helps me to figure out what I'm picturing in the first place.

A few lines that might actually make it into the next draft: "Hearth had a real name once." And (unrelated), "I know liars when I see them. I'm a liar myself by trade."

9 comments:

  1. Very good point. I agree completely, but you clearly have a better sense of what a first draft can be, while I tend to get upset at my poor diction and letting that stop me from writing. I'll be very excited to read some of your first, second, third, or whatever drafts you end up writing throughout this month! (NaCreSoMo. Not a creeper).

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    1. I totally know you! (In an actually-remember-meeting-you-IRL, not a creeper way.) Hi!

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    2. Also, I definitely still struggle with ARGH THIS WRITING IS SO BAD feelings, and I've been doing this for kind of a while.

      This way might not work for your personal process, but it's something that I've found immensely helpful--so maybe worth a try. :)

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    3. My way of getting through first drafts is accepting that the first draft is a shitty draft that lays out everything so I can go back and fix things later, and the point is that if you have the flow / the mood to write, then write as fast as possible.

      If there's a part which I don't like, I just acknowledge how I'm feeling in what I'm writing, and then I can take it out / fix it on another pass. I also tend to keep most of what I write in a first draft, though. I'm not sure if this means I like my writing too much, or I'm just not good enough at editing to realize what needs to change. :p

      For example, if I'm writing dialogue I hate: And then Jack said "Pleased to meet you, Herr Karlson. Have you seen omg this is utter trash bleghhh the butterflies dancing in the cherry trees? They're quite amazing. (And I just used the word amazing. talk about poor word choice. ffff.) " It gets you through and keeps you writing when you have flow, and makes pretty obvious targets for revision when you look it over again. Description might be something like: "The (something) trees glittered (so dumb) in the light (better word), blinding the hovercar pilot as he pushed the pedal to the floor (anachronism!)"

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    4. I don't know if I could do the in-text splarging that you work with! It sounds so much like...I don't know, giving substantive space to the person who doesn't think I can write at all?

      I definitely know what you mean, though. I usually do that on the second pass, after the first draft--making notes of everything that's horrible and doesn't work.

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  2. This is soooo helpful. It reinforces some thoughts that I had about the creative process and kinda takes the edge off of the pressure I feel about writing sometimes. Though stories aren't my forte, sometimes I let flowery words get in the way of my songwriting....So I will most definitely keep this stuff in mind as I continue to write. Thanks! :)

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    1. You're welcome! I think it's a pitfall that tons of creative people run into--the idea that they have to be perfect the first time around, or they can't write anything down because it's not going to be good...

      Some people write good stuff the first time. But sometimes the idea that you have to be good from the beginning is a huge deterrent.

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  3. I suggest codenames from either scientific names of species, or the common names of birds. :p

    I find your writing approach really interesting, as while a lot of what I'm doing in a first draft is deploying the story outline (I know who and where people are and what their goals are, but not how things unfold exactly), but my stories have a lot less flexibility from first draft to future drafts, as once I lay down the first draft the story's solidified in my mind as occurring that way. Not exactly sure if I should consider this a strength or weakness at this point, or perhaps neither.

    It also makes me a little sad, as I am pretty sure I remember reading two of your stories for the SFF workshop (? One about a carnival, a love story, and a pair of magical performers, and another about a dragon or a witch and a conversation over a cup of tea...? Hopefully I'm not thinking of someone else's stories), both of which I think were first drafts, and I really liked both of them as they were written.

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    1. I think that all the things (carnival, love story, dragon, etc.) were in the same story. And yes, that was me. (I'm glad you liked it!)

      I probably should have made a distinction between rough and first drafts. The first draft I write (that I talk about in the post above) is more of a rough draft in that said draft is almost never seen by anyone other than me. I don't remember specifically, but chances are that what you saw in the workshop was the next draft, after I'd gone through and made things marginally better.

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