writing

Drafting: fast and messy or slow and clean?

I’m experimenting with a new way of writing.

In the past, my story ideas have resulted in explosions of speed-writing, typing as fast as my fingers can because I have to get the story out. I’ve done it this way three times, and all three of those it’s been intensely enjoyable. And let’s face it–there are definite advantages to doing it this way: it gets done. Powering through until you type the very last sentence, without questioning yourself or what you’re writing, is like riding a roller coaster. You almost feel like you’re being carried away by something stronger than yourself, and there’s nothing you can do but hang on tight and ride it to the end.

However, writing that way does produce a messy, messy draft. And let’s face it–messy drafts can be a bit overwhelming to tackle during revisions.

I went back to one of those stories recently, determined to whip it into shape and make it query-ready. What I found was discouraging–a villain who didn’t deliver, a plot that didn’t get as exciting as the lead-up promised, overly verbose descriptions of this and that, all-over-the-place POV (point of view)–holy cramoly. It felt too messy to salvage, and every time I tried to revise in a significant way I felt trapped by a heroine who, upon further reads, I realized was unlikeable.

At this point, I could have shelved the story. But honestly, I never considered shelving it. I loved the story and the characters as I knew them in my mind–it just wasn’t translating to the page. So. I’ll scrap it, I decided. And start fresh. Same story, same characters, new writing. New, awesome writing. New, awesome, super-tight writing.

I’ve been working on it for a couple months now. It’s a very different experience, because I already know the substance of the story. I (roughly) know where it’s headed. I know the characters. So it’s more of a matter of getting there in the right way. Finding the right scenes. Knitting them together in the right sequence.

This time, my focus isn’t GET THE STORY OUT AS FAST AS YOU CAN. It’s get the story out right.

It’s slower. A lot slower. It involves combing over material that I’ve already written and messing with scenes–their content, style, sequence. It involves deleting stuff that doesn’t work. Tweaking, finagling, squinting at a line and just sitting with it. The writing, compared to my fast and messy drafts, is leaner and tighter. But it’s taking a looooong time. Sometimes a couple hours’ work only results in one tiny new scene. Or a couple scenes slightly revised.

One of my fears in going about it this way was that it would be a passion-kill. That by going at a snail’s pace, somehow all the excitement would bleed out of it. That hasn’t been the case. True, it’s not the fit-of-passion of my speed-writing, but it’s very enjoyable. When I open the manuscript, there are no rules like there used to be (go go go go go FAST!). Instead, there’s latitude. I might do some new writing. I might go over some old writing. I might focus on the opening scenes (again). I love the reminder that, in writing, there are no rules. As long as I finish it, it doesn’t matter how I got there. And that is very freeing.

By the end, I think (I hope) it will be a relatively clean draft. Of course it will require the usual post-draft steps–revisions, critiques from readers, more revisions, resting time, more revisions, and all that good stuff. But I’m excited to produce something that isn’t a mess.

What about you? Do you write slow and clean, or fast and messy? Do you find one way better than the other?

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