Friday, August 21, 2009

I've got a question for you...

I took a writing class with Orson Scott Card a few weeks ago. One of the things he encouraged us to do rings true, but it also disagrees with so many of the things I've been taught about writing and rewriting and editing. I thought I'd ask you guys what you thought about it.

He feels that the best way to proceed through writing a book is from the beginning to the end--to make what you have right and good before you move on. He doesn't believe in multiple drafts. That's not to say that you don't let things flow when you're being creative, but, as I understood him, he feels that the story is freshest and best in the first draft. With editing you can kill what makes the story vibrant. He advocates rewriting as you go and making the story what you want before you move on to the next element. He says what we need to do is make our first draft the final draft--that if things start getting off track we should go back straight away and fix them. Don't put it off for later. Don't skip ahead. Make it work or change it before you move on.

This doesn't mean you don't go through it at the end and make grammatical corrections and small adjustments, but for him when he types the final page the MS is done. The story is what it must be. 

What do you think of that approach? There's a lot in me that says it's a wonderful way to proceed. I wish I could do it, but I like the idea of being able to go back and fix things later. It frees me up to let things flow. I'm afraid I can't get it right the first time through. Is that just a cop out? Is it just my insecurities that makes me think I have to do multiple drafts? Have any of you written from beginning to end correcting as you go without tons of drafts?

26 comments:

T. Anne said...

I don't agree with going back right away but I do believe the first draft is the purest form of the story in a sense.

scott g.f. bailey said...

I think Mr. Card must have a pretty solid understanding of his story before he sits down to write in order to do this. I don't know how many writers really know their story when they first begin to tell it.

I also think that with some kinds of stories, this is easier than with other kinds of stories. Card writes pretty straightforward narratives, doesn't he? My next book, I think, will pretty much be "on the page" with the first draft, because I've done a lot of planning already. So I think that what Card is really getting at is that the story shouldn't be a mystery to the author when she sits down to write the first draft.

Annie Louden said...

I can see Card's point, and I agree with what Scott says that Card must have a pretty clear idea of his story before he begins that first draft.

I've never written a novel in which I knew what it was going to be about before I started writing. So, I have to go back.

But, it also sounds to me that Card is doing a lot of drafting/drafts, but they're all in the first draft, I guess. I like the idea of lots of drafts because then I have something to quantify. Just like I enjoy NaNoWriMo b/c I can keep track of my progress with a word counter.

I think it would be helpful for me to slow down and fix things when I see I might be getting off course, but I don't think I'm that disciplined. If I ramble, fine, as long as I keep going and get the thing polished eventually.

Cindy said...

Actually saying it loud, it honestly sounds kind of crazy. The first draft is the final draft. But not only do I agree with it, that's how I do it.

In fact, I just had a conversation with my husband about this last night. We were talking about editing and I told him it was pretty strange because I work to make my first write through my final copy (minus punctuation, spelling and all that). But I think through each scene and then I don't like to proceed if it doesn't sound right.

I used to write through several drafts but I haven't done that for the last three books and it feels great. They are three of my favorite stories and it worked well correcting and planning as I go. I'm curious to see the other responses to this topic.

P.S. Orson Scott Card rules!

beth said...

I agree: editing can certainly kill a story. I speak from experience.

And there's soemthing to be said about going back and fixing something that's not working. No point writing in a style/tone/voice that you know won't work by the end.

BUT--you should go back. No one, not even Orson Scott Card, is perfect the first time around. When you read through your work, you might have to rearrange structure.

Here's the thing--people, even famous authors, who speak in broad absolutes (*always* do it this way, *never* do it this way)...well, I tend to think those people have lost touch with the reality of writing.

Jim Harrington said...

I read an article by Joyce Carol Oates where she described her process. She writes a first draft that is ninety percent ready, and then polishes it during a second draft. She admits she spends a considerable amount of time thinking the story through, so she has the entire story in mind before she begins.

Tess said...

The great Sid Fleishman once said the same thing. He said he writes and rewrites each page till it's perfect (or as perfect as he can get it) and then moves on. No multiple drafts for him.

my think? must be nice! I think something is brilliant at the time and then the next day realize it is crap.

oh well...

Davin Malasarn said...

I think this is definitely one way to go about it. My interpretation of this method is a bit different from what other people are saying in the comments here. The way I understand it, you don't need to know where your story is going to do this. I could write, for example, 5 pages of a story, and then go back and revise it and revise it, but the key is to not move forward too far before I feel like those five pages are solid. Then, I creep along with a few more pages, edit and edit and edit, and then go on from there. You don't need to know the ending, and I think what makes this method successful is that it has more forward momentum this way. Because we ourselves don't know what's happening next, each section has it's own driving force and it's own spontaneity. I've written some short stories this way, and I'll admit that they have been by most prestigious publications to date (which, really, isn't saying much.) These stories are very different from the ones where I go back after the whole story is down. I really see them as two distinct classes with two effects, and I see myself doing both.

Merc said...

If I stopped to make things "perfect" or even fiddle with them to fix them (without fully knowing how they need to be fixed until I'm done), I'd never finish a draft. O:)

Obvious, huge, glaring problems--sure, I'll stop and go back and fix them, then keep going. But I have to keep writing forward. If I let myself start editing as I go, well. Nothing would get done because it would never, ever be "good enough" to move on.

I prefer writing crappy drafts that I can fix and polish later, once I know what needs to be done and when I've decided if the story is worth keeping. ;)

So, I guess that's just me. I know writers who edit as they go, and this works for them. I think it comes down to what works best for YOU as a writer, not what someone else declares is the One and Only Way.

*cheers on rough drafts*

~Merc

Jenn Johansson said...

I think that I'm too inexperienced a writer to do this. Mine takes many, many--many drafts to get where I want it. Maybe once I've written as many books as OSC I will feel the same. :)

Liana Brooks said...

I think this works for a certain type of person. If your brain is programed for linear function this could work. Or if you outline well and know the whole story before you write the first draft, this could work.

I know it wouldn't work for me the way I currently write. To start with, I usually start typing a random scene with no idea what happens next. I write and discover the story as I go. I can't know if I'm off track or not because I don't know the destination.

And, even when I have an idea, I tend to start in the middle of the book and realize I need to backtrack after draft one. That's just how I write.

It's an interesting idea though. I wonder if it works for other new writers.

Robin of My Two Blessings said...

I guess it depends entirely on the person. For me, it wouldn't work. Even though I have a vague outline, once I start writing, I need to finish and not go back and fix it. Otherwise I'd spend the whole time fixing it and forget what I was going to write for the rest of the story. Make sense? Everyone has made some good points and I can see what Davin is saying. But that type of approach isn't for me.

lotusgirl said...

Thanks so much for all the thoughts. I think the way Davin expressed it is the way Card does it. I don't think you have to know everything before you start. I don't think it's the only way to write, but I think it is a good approach, if you can do it.

I've tried the writing and revising method, and I'm not sure that my story is getting any better. Parts of it are, but the whole is losing it's spark. I'm thinking I'm going to try this method and see how it goes. Wish me luck.

Danyelle said...

It sounds odd at first, and then I realized that this is how I write. After I went through the steep learning curve of writing my first novel that won't be under the bed fodder, I've learned a lot about how I work. I don't outline or plan things out, but somehow things tie together. I agree about not moving forward (for me) if there's a snag. For me, this doesn't mean going over the earlier stuff to death, it means finding out why I'm stuck and fixing that before I move on. This usually means figuring out where the story and I parted ways, backtracking to where we were together, and working up from there.

My reasoning for not going forward, is that if it gets off track early on, everything I write afterwards (if I don't fix it) will be off track as well.

lotusgirl said...

Danyelle, that's it exactly.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

The first thing that came to my mind was what happened to Mr. Card's first writings? Did he publish his first novel without rewrite? Maybe so. But the learning curve for me is more difficult. I'm feeling my way along and maybe someday I'll be that good at it. I understand how the first rush of words is fresh and we don't want to edit the life out of it, but it also won't stand up if the structure is wobbly.

JaneyV said...

I do what Mr Card does and how many MSs have I finished … er … none. I would love to be a rough drafter but I constantly re-read what I've done and I hate ot when it doesn't flow right. I tell myself that it'll make the final editing procedure easier. You and I will both have to wait till I get there before I find out if that's true!

I think that as writers we have to pick the method that works for us.

Natalie said...

I'm not sure about that advice. For me personally, I often don't know/realize something is wrong until after I finish the draft!

As I write, I honestly try to "make my first draft the final." But if I focus too much on perfection I fall into very self-destructive trains of thought. Like, say, "I suck and I will never write a good book and no one will read it and those who do will laugh in my face."

I don't know...I'd rather edit a few times than feel like that.

PJ Hoover said...

I'm sure it's a great approach and works for some, but it's not what works for me. I change too many things as I go and correct them on the way back through.
But wow!

Lady Glamis said...

Everybody writes differently. Just look at the comments here. Hah. Honestly, I've done both approaches so far. But each book has been different and required different things. With my current version of Monarch, it's going so ridiculously slow because I'm making sure it's all RIGHT before I move on to the next sentence, scene, chapter, etc.

I've pretty much always TRIED to write like Card says, but my writing hasn't reached a point yet where I know what I'm doing well enough to call that first draft the final draft. I'm still on the steep learning curve, and not sure I'll get to a rounding off point any time soon. But I'm striving for it.

I don't think Card should go around telling everybody that's the BEST way to write, though. I mean, everybody's different. I guess you say he said he "feels the best way to proceed", so that works.

You need to get on chat again soon so we can start talking about our books. I miss your insights. *sniff*

Alexa said...

Well I've only written one book so I'm not an expert but I zoomed through the first draft and it was a mess. I've really enjoyed editing though and it is such a different book now. I think I had to have that first messy draft to play with though or the thought of writing all those words would have freaked me out.

Glams right though were all different :)

Pen Pen said...

I can't just go straight thru--I get too engrossed in making scenes perfect. I wish I could go all the way thru and then go back tho--that seems much less...muddy.
AND!! GOOD NEWS!! Go read my new post!

Solvang Sherrie said...

I don't think that would work for me, but everyone's different. I get into the heat of writing and I don't notice some of the problems until I go back later, much later.

lotusgirl said...

It's so nice to hear everyone's opinions on this. Y'all are great to share.

Ann Victor said...

Interesting question. What works for me is that I do each day's new writing by hand, but before I start that I edit the previous day's work as I go. I find it's a way for helping me make the transition from the "real world" into the world of my story. A side benefit is that it is basically doing a first edit as I go along. The negative is that I have immense struggles with the inner critic, which does, at times, limit my creativity. But, on the whole, I've found this way works best for me. So I think you need to go with what works best for you in your own creative process!

Cochrane Rangers Soccer Club said...

I think if you outline before writing and know exactly what direction your story is going to take then you can do that. But if you only have a general idea and want to experiment and see where your story takes you then you can't do that.

I'm in the later group. I don't like to totally outline because it takes the fun out of writing for me.