I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Monday, January 09, 2006

First Drafts

I've always dreaded starting new jobs because I hate not knowing what I'm supposed to be doing. I find comfort in routine. I trust routine and I feel that I function at my best when I find one. My writing is no exception.

Many professional writers give budding writers permission to write bad first drafts—to just get all of their observations and thoughts about a topic on paper and worry about shaping them into a marketable piece later. I've never been one of those writers. I have no idea why. My brain just doesn't work that way. I have a theme in mind as I sit down to craft an article or chapter and I try not to stray too far from the theme. If something within me wants to explore the topic on a deeper level, I usually give it permission, to a degree, but then I usually remind it that I need it to hurry up and get to the point because I'm on deadline.

By the time I've reached the end of my first draft I usually have a good idea of what the finished article or chapter is going to look like. Sometimes I find that I've buried the lead two or three paragraphs into the body of the text. Sometimes I realize that the rabbit trail I allowed myself to chase might really be worth exploring—in which case, I do the necessary research to find out whether I need to restructure the article. And sometimes, I have to move paragraphs around or flesh them out a little better. But I've learned to trust my process of formulating a good first draft and then making the necessary changes the second and third times through.

I just started reading Anne Lamott's classic book bird by bird: Some instructions on Writing and Life. In one chapter, in which she advocates writing bad first drafts if that's what it takes to get everything down on paper, she describes a process she used to go through when she was writing food reviews on assignment for a magazine. She'd write detailed descriptions of food that would go on for pages. Her internal critics told her to stop, but she did it anyway. Listen to her reasoning: "because by then I had been writing for so long, I would eventually let myself trust the process—sort of, more or less."

Even though she crafts articles in a completely different way than I do, we've both learned to trust the process. That only happens after a writer has written enough material to actually discover a process. I think that's where many newer writers get stuck. They are looking for a formula that works for every writer, but I don't think one exists. Process exists. My process will never work for some writers. But that's okay because the process doesn't matter. The end result matters and however a writer reaches it is fine. The key is to fight through the infancy stages until a process is discovered. Then, trust it.


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