Friday, March 23, 2012

Moving Week

With a tip of the hat to Anne Lamott, more of my shitty first draft for a novel went into the cyber dust bin this week. Why? Because when I write the first draft, I put everything including the kitchen sink in. Redundancies. Contradictions. Redundancies. Characters whose names change mid-story. Junk that sounds perfect in the first draft.

This has been moving week for the draft. All the plot elements are there, just not in the right place. I've been moving chapters all over the place. Each move involves a rewrite of the relocated chapter. I foreclosed on some chapters by moving them into the parking lot, where stuff that no longer works lurks in case I can use it later. Oddly, the overall word count hasn't changed significantly, but the words themselves have.

I'm a multi-draft writer. Up to twenty or more sometimes. Some chapters get more attention than others during the dusting and cleaning phase. The polishing phase tweaks more words, cleans up ugly sentences. I try to remember the difference between lay and laid, even though Rod Stewart really screwed up our use with his "Lay, Lady, Lay." I remove commas that, don't belong. The rule I try to follow is when, in doubt leave it, out. I'm in love with semicolons and colons, just not always in fiction: because colons are most often used incorrectly.

I take out my sword and slash and burn empty words. There is, it is--past and present tense. I take out white spaces where two characters are speaking for a page or two. I fill that white space with actions, not dialogue tags. I have people do something while they are speaking. Oh, you don't think people do things while they are talking? Just go to a restaurant and watch. People wave their hands, look up at televisions, wipe their hands on napkins (or pants), etc. We all twitch. I try and capture the twitches and itches people have.

Later, once I'm convinced the foundation, the structure of the story, is right, I'll begin polishing. I'll added words that evoke the five senses. Well, six, because one of the characters has a form of ESP. I'm make sure the location is a character because it influences so much of the action. I'll make sure the themes of racism, forgiveness, understanding and slavery are interwoven throughout the plot.

And then I'll start over again with more editing until it's ready to go to my agent. Until then, you'll find me at my desk, keys on keyboard, thesauri and grammar texts at the ready.


  1. Sounds all too familiar. It's a wonder any of us get anything else done. My favorite part is waking up in the middle of the night to remember something that needs to be changed, or added, or deleted. Even after I write it down on the pad next to my bed, I still can't go back to sleep...wondering if there's anything else. So, anyway,good luck with the move!

  2. Pretty standard stuff, huh, Donna. Move is going well. I now have the pieces in the right order, even if they aren't written very well. That's easier to fix and realizing I too much stuff in all the wrong places. Ah yes, the creative life is so much fun!

  3. Love your use of the term "parking lot" for the place you deposit - or rather park - passages that don't exactly fit but you might want to use later. My husband called that "the pepperpot," after a throw-it-all-in soup recipe that his grandmother made that was made of bits of just about everything left over in the refrigerator... while his term was quaint and appealing, for me it tends to be the repository of things I'd like to use later, but don't ever really find a place for; they tend to disappear into the "soup." Occasionally I go back and read and giggle over them, but don't seem to ever actually use most of them because mostly I forget they are there. They languish apart, perhaps more like the "deleted scenes" extras on DVDs. If I were to think about it more as a "parking lot," I might get more use of the contents of my "pepperpot" file, because the natural use is parallel to the desired thought process - park it there for awhile, and then come back and use it later.

    Great bits here! Always a pleasure to read.

    Love, Susannah

  4. Susannah,
    I love the pepperpot. What a great, positive image. One of my friends adopted the parking lot after she told me her unused passages were in a Junk folder in a Dead file. The look of horror on my face must have convinced her to give her little darlings a second look.
    Write on.