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Little Edits: A Peek Into Process

I’ve blogged before about my process. It is something that a lot of people find interesting. I know I enjoy discussing process and learning about the creative flow as others experience it, even if it doesn’t apply to the way MY writing gets done.

One of the key elements of my work flow seems to be this: I write first drafts long hand, and then transfer the words to the computer at a later date.

First, I am a big believer that writing with pen (or, pencil) and paper is one way of unlocking a very different side of your creativity. I also know that not everyone has the same process, so I never suggest anyone HAS to write long hand. I do suggest that everyone TRY it, especially if you are finding yourself “stuck” in some dark corner of your writing.

Second, when I do get around to typing the words, that process serves as a unique sort of “first edit” for the work. I’ve come to think of it as an “in-line” edit, because I find myself transported into that fictional world I’m trying to create, and that re-immersion tends to free up additional details and subtleties.

I thought I would share a brief look into that process for you, today.

The section of my novel I was working on yesterday included a brief digression of the narrator who is recounting a story she was told about an unusual landscape feature of a house she and her husband lived in: a lawn chair wedged into the upper branches of an old maple tree.

The original, hand-written paragraph reads like this:

According to our only neighbor–the house was surrounded by corn fields on two sides and a wooded area across the road–the chair ended up in the tree one night after a marital squabble had spilled outdoors when a toaster oven had made easy work of the sliding glass door. The husband was so angry about the broken glass–or maybe, he’d been trying to brown an english muffin–that he began tossing the lawn furniture around the back yard while the wife hurled curses at him and sprayed him with a garden hose. Eventually, the festivities came to an end when the wife chucked a garden trowel in the husband’s direction. Her aim was true and she had to rush him to Oxford for eleven stitches, but not before he gave the lawn chair one last, angry heave.

As I typed the paragraph, some minor changes in both content and structure were realized. Here is the paragraph as it now stands:

According to Mr. Dahlhauser, our only neighbor—the maze house was surrounded by a corn field on one side and in the back, and there was a wooded area across the highway—the chair ended up in the tree one night when a marital squabble had spilled outdoors after the toaster oven made easy work of the sliding glass door of the kitchen. The husband was angry about the broken glass. Or, maybe, he’d been trying to brown an english muffin. Either way, the incident inspired a rage in the man. He began tossing the lawn furniture around the back yard like that commercial ape tossed American Tourister luggage. The wife stood in the archway of the glass-less door and hurled curses instead of furniture, but with similar simian aggressiveness. Something she said provoked her husband to turn the garden hose against her, which prompted her to take up gardening tools, which she chucked at his head. Her aim was true. The trowel cut a deep gorge and she had to rush him to Oxford for eleven stitches, but not before he gave the lawn chair one last, bloody, angry heave.

There are some things about this version that make it clearly superior. The lines about the “commercial ape” and the wife’s “simian aggressiveness” are particularly appealing to me, and the entire scenario seems a bit clearer.

Don’t misunderstand: I still consider this the first draft of the text. (I typically call this the first completed draft, once the words are actually in the novel software and are ready for further editing.) I see things I’m not happy with, chief among them, the first digression about the location of the house compared to the corn fields. I am confident when I get to “editing mode” things will still change.

But, this paragraph is a good example of how my workflow molds and shapes the words, even in these earliest stages. I write what I know, and tweak it a little as I type the words into the computer. Sometimes, that means adding details, and sometimes that means shortening sequences. Overall, I find I’m left with a first draft that is more full than if I were to sit at the computer from the start.

What I don’t do, at this early stage, is labor over commas and specific words. There will be plenty of time for tinkering with the text, later. For now, in this stage, flow is much more important to me than precision.

You may have a different method. If you’d like to share, please do so below. I’m always interested in how others find their creative sweet spot. It’s the sort of nerdy, writerly thing I enjoy talking about.

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