Saturday, September 27, 2008

I'm Just Like This Guy!

In The Artful Edit, Susan Bell gives examples from many writers' processes. I had a lot of fun reading her account of how author Luc Sante works, because I saw myself. According to Bell, Sante himself has interviewed over 100 writers and found hardly any who work the way he does. I am one of these rare birds.

Sante doesn't do drafts, by which he means he doesn't write a fairly quick first draft and then go over it numerous times to fix different aspects each time. Sante edits as he writes, meaning he does a lot of it in his head. His "first draft" takes forever, because he's editing all the way, to the point where the sentences that actually get recorded are pretty polished, and he sides with those who believe that the more an idea perks in the brain, the more mature and better-written it will be when it does hit the page. Sante says: "I write the next paragraph, the next page, painfully slowly, as if I were picking up a transmission from Alpha Centauri on a crystal radio in bad weather. I can't go on to the next sentence until this one feels right . . ."

Sante hardly macro-edits at all, but micro-edits to no end even after writing the high-level "draft." He writes strictly in sequence, rarely changing the order or structure of scenes but picking tirelessly at words. And here's a quote I think is really cool: "Sometimes . . . I get the next sentence dictated to me, which means, generally, that I hear its exact rhythm before I know what the words will be that compose it."

Wow. Me too. All of it. It feels kind of strange, because it seems that everybody writes in drafts and so I speak of drafts too. I mean, it's common language with which to communicate with other writers. But I'm outing myself by identifying with Sante. I do it the way he does.

Anybody else do this?

11 comments:

Brenda said...

Most of my stories started with a scribble, then an outline, then a draft and then a workable story...I have one story that just flowed out of me with no draft, just the story...The first 12 chapters came to me in less then a week, but chapter 13 has been my downfall and I can't seem to get any more out of me...sigh...

PJ Hoover said...

I write it out fast, knowing I'll go through many revisions, but it helps for me to get that whole flow of words down on paper (or electrons as the case may be).

Marcia said...

Brenda -- isn't it awesome how some stories just "come"? Maybe chapter 13 needs you to understand a little more deliberately what needs to be done. I hope inspiration strikes. :)

PJ -- perhaps I'm too orderly for my own good. Something in me just can't bear to produce something that needs that much fixing, even though I really like revision. But I think it's more this: I'm watching for the small emotional increments, the true cause and effect, and I don't see fast output as allowing that to come forth. Oh well -- the important thing is arriving at what works for us.

sruble said...

I write in a similar manner in that I edit as I write, and I write a lot in my head. I still have to do macro and micro revisions though.

Marcia said...

sruble -- I agree that macro and micro edits are important however you write. Like Sante, my micro-edit is more extensive, but I definitely don't feel I can ignore macro just because of the way I write. Thanks for stopping by! :)

Anne Spollen said...

I love the Alpha Centauri quote -- that's precisely how I write.

But I think I write like Marcia. I can't just "get it down" as my college teachers advised. I work slowly, then still go over it and over it after I've worked slowly.

Something I've wondered about: do you see your story as a whole when you first sit down, or do you just see an image, a character, a phrase? (I think it's sort of both for me, like a fuzzy whole, if that makes sense) Just wondering how other folks go about this.

Carrie Harris said...

I do something very similar; editing as I go, revising the previous chapter as an in to writing the next one, and such. I think I ended up rewriting three scenes total from my last book, but otherwise the basic structure is the same. I can't imagine just writing it all out and then trying to make sense of it at the end. I can't turn off my internal editor enough to do that!

Tabitha said...

I also edit as I go, but not quite as micro as this. I'll save that for the next pass. :) But I'm like you in that I don't want to write something that's going to need a lot of fixing. That just depresses me, hence, it'll never get done. :) So I edit as much as I can that keeps me moving forward, but doesn't niggle my brain at the same time.

Marcia said...

Anne -- I love the Alpha Centauri quote too. He really drew me in with that. I think I may agree with you on the "fuzzy whole," but given the choice I lean more toward a character and basic situation as the springboard for a book. I don't know the whole thing when I start.

Carrie -- I can't turn the internal editor off to that degree either. And I think going over yesterday's production as a good lead-in to today's is really helpful.

Tabitha -- I agree that it's just depressing to keep on plowing through something you know needs a ton of work. Maybe it's that this whole business is so hard that I want to keep as many positive feelings as possible, and that includes feeling good about what I'm writing while I'm writing it.

Kim Kasch said...

I hear the story in my head as I write. Isn't that a mental illness?

I've never been a know it all ;-) Not until the end.

But I tend to revise like crazy as I go along I keep asking myself should it be an "a" "the" or "it". Those voices keep talking to me in my head.

Marcia said...

Kim -- Nah, it's just more evidence that the non-writing world doesn't get the process. :)It's been fun to find out that a lot more people revise as they go than I expected.