Friday, July 24, 2009

Mantras and focusing questions and starting Draft 8

Way back at the start of this blog I talked about the mantras I used to focus and motivate me through the first couple drafts. I think I have new one for this draft.

When I was drafting, the mantra was "Just add sentences." Whatever it was I was afraid of or confused by, don't let that stop me from adding sentences. That was the only goal. Quality was the enemy. Art was the enemy. Intelligibility was the enemy. Just add sentences.

When it came to the first (and eventually the second and third) rewrite, I figured out that my mantra was "keep digging." What I needed to do during that long period was to develop the emotional complexity of many many episodes and the way to do that was the dig deeper into it. The tendency was to try and fix things up by writing the patch from one spot to another so I could persuade myself that I magically wrote a perfect book in only two drafts, so I had to remind myself that it was premature to do that. Keep digging.

The draft I was working on last winter, I was thinking in terms of mantras or focusing questions, but looking back I was probably telling myself something like "keep cutting." That was the stage where I cut it down by about 27% if I remember right.

This draft I did in the last month, the way I focused myself, as I mentioned several times, was to ask "What is the intention in this chapter/episode/section?" Not a mantra in that case, but a focusing question. And as I mentioned, it helped a ton. I would spend a little time before each chapter freewriting on that question and eventually an answer would present itself which would in turn make clear big pieces that didn't adhere to the intention.

The next draft . . . I said yesterday, I think I could benefit from some kind of focusing question like that, and I spent some time last night thinking about that and reading some different sources that have been valuable to me in the past. I'm not sure I've found the exact right concern to guide me in this draft, but here is what I've settled on: "Show the reader the necessity." I'll be all over the issue of necessity. That cuts two ways. One is cutting out what is unnecessary, and, again, I'm hoping this is at a sentence-craft level by now. I'm trying to get the sentences to zip. Two is building up the energy of the language to help the reader feel the necessity of a given scene. I want the book to feel necessary.

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