Here are some things that I hold to be pretty self-evident:
–A writer can learn to turn a crappy draft into an utterly awesome work of fiction.
–The ability to revise a draft, of whatever quality, into something good develops with time and experience.
–An experienced editor can tell the difference between a draft with a lot of potential and one whose revision into a publishable story is going to be vastly more challenging… even, perhaps, beyond the current abilities of its creator.
–None of us is Shakespeare.
–When we think we have nothing left to learn, we stop learning.
A high level of craft is never my first-draft priority. I’m not above naming my incidental characters Namity McNamepants, or CousinTwo, or even writing “Insert kick-ass detail here!” or “WTF does this house look like?” The compulsion to get the story out and on the page, to drag the character’s journey into the light, is my first and overwhelming imperative. This is why I distinguish between Frankenstein drafts and first drafts. By the time something of mine hits a workshop, I’ve gone through it three to five times. After the McNamepants are gone, and the kickass details are inserted… then I call it a draft.
As a teacher, I am very much one of those folks who advocate the fast writing, the get-it-out-and-fix-it-later. (I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but I think it’s one of those experiments that everyone can profitably try.)
This leads to an interesting challenge, which is explaining to my UCLA students that it’s not a total contradiction to evaluate their writing based on hastily written drafts. That I am qualified to say “Gee is this far along the road, while Ess is here,” even though I haven’t seen what they can do in a rewrite.
What it boils down to, in some ways, is the “To Do” list. If the author of Draft A is showing rather than telling, if they’re writing in scenes, if they’re more or less telling a whole story and the list is something like a) amp up the conflict; b) add more setting detail; c) put the pivotal scene between the main character and its cyborg mother on-stage, they’re further along than the writer of Draft B, whose list goes all the way to to q) and includes half the Turkey City Lexicon, plus also some biggie like “You need a plot.”
Even though we some of us talk about freely writing bad drafts, as writers, the fact is even our rough work gets richer as we develop. I’m not sure I’d thought this through before.
Does that mean I can look at ten drafts and say which writers will make it? No. As Marie Brennan points out in Tuesday’s Journey interview, getting published is largely a matter of persistence. The same person whose 2010 draft story suffers from insurmountable weaknesses might write a very workable story next time, whip through an intriguing third project, and then dive into an experiment that almost succeeds wildly before it crashes and burns. And then, suddenly, five drafts later, they’re the ones writing the material with the short To Do list.
So this is the less self-evident thing I’m contemplating now: if you keep writing, gathering feedback, and striving to get better, your raw work should improve, too. Even your crap should be, well, more golden.
Part of September, for me, is catching up on maintenance stuff, which means the past week has been full of extra appointments–dental checkup, fireplace fix-it guys, that sort of thing. I am very much a creature of routine and the cumulative disruption was big: I am looking at a far smoother road next week, and it’s an exciting prospect.
Routine includes getting some pics online, so here’s a cormorant.
Vancouver currently smells of horseshit, leading me to suspect that this is the time of year when a savvy gardener’s thoughts turn to fertilizer.
Me, I am going after a different kind of enrichment… the always lovely brain on legs known as Linda Carson has turned me on to TED talks and I have been inhaling one, chosen more or less at random, every day.
Like the millions of viewers who have already figured out that these vids are pure gold, I’ve found that twenty minutes a day is an awfully cheap price to pay to get one’s mind stretched. It’s always been one of my more cherished beliefs that any topic is interesting if the speaker is both knowledgeable and passionate. TED pretty much proves me right. They cover a wide range of subjects, ranging from politics and science to art and design. The speakers are at the top of their various fields, and many of them are supremely entertaining. There have been lightning calculators, Mentalist-style maestros of misdirection, and yesterday I watched Chris Anderson explain crowd accelerated innovation. Here’s the trailer Linda used to hook me, featuring snippets from ten of their most downloaded talks:
The practice of watching these has somehow led me back to loading up CBC podcasts, a habit I’d dropped, so I am also happily mushing my way through a backlog of Vinyl Cafe stories and expect to inhale some as-yet uncracked Quirks and Quarks. These are audio, better suited to a hike or my various commutes.
The delivery system for all this material is my teeny-tiny iTouch. Kelly has written a Favorite Thing Ever luv pome about hers, so I won’t rhapsodize. I’ll just say, it is both handy and dandy. In addition to the podcasts, I’ve added one other app to the mix, recently: I loaded up iBooks. (Hey, they offered me a free illustrated copy of Winnie the Pooh … who was I to say no?)
I would’ve expected the teeny tiny iTouch screen to be a barrier to my first foray into proper ebook reading. I read a friend’s novel on my gadget, using a PDF file, and there were teeny-text challenges. No surprise–the screen is, what? Two by three inches? But the iBook interface has a bookshelf, which I find charming, and its files are far more readable than that self-loaded PDF. And I have never actually read Winnie The Pooh, believe it or not. So far, the virtual book does seem surprisingly me-friendly, and may even turn me into a bus reader.
But if it did, when would I write blog posts?
In the meantime, Thursday’s verbiage: 923 words, for a total of 10747.