Immutable Laws of Writing, #4: There are no one-draft writers.
For any writing that matters—and, if you’re a bit of an obsessive wordsmith (like me), for any writing at all—the journey from none to done will include revisions. There are no one-draft writers.
“Writing is rewriting” has been said so many times, I want to question its truth on that basis alone. So let’s state it another way: good writing requires rewriting. Writing is a creative act, and creativity is far more than the flash of a great idea. Creativity is the hard work of moving from idea to well-executed solution.
Such is true of writing, and the longer the piece, the more work, time, and rewriting it takes. I don’t know about you, but I never send even a simple email message without taking a second pass to make sure it says precisely what I want it to say, and nearly 100 percent of the time, I make at least one change.
We are a society obsessed with going from none to done, from zero to zenith with barely a stop in between, but I don’t think we’re seeing the process clearly. I think we’re seeing the journey as much too easy, and I’m not sure it’s even our fault. I think we’re being sold on simplicity that’s not there. For example, “couch to 5K” running programs make sense, but couch to marathon? Is it a worthy goal to go from not being a runner at all to finishing a marathon in six or nine months, even if that means walking the majority of it? (My answer: no. Becoming a regular runner and living a more healthy lifestyle are are worthy goals, and they don’t require that you punish yourself. The marathon can wait until the body is actually ready to run the race, not stagger home in seven hours.)
Or, closer to our topic, is the misunderstood world of self-publishing. The ability to publish a book or ebook with literally just a few clicks has led many, many people to finish writing the first draft of a book and to consider it done. Click: I’m a published author! Good for you! But did you know your book is almost certainly terrible? Not just full of typos, but actually terrible writing.
In case that’s not emphatic enough, allow me to beg: please, please, please don’t finish the draft and head straight for CreateSpace or KDP. You’re not nearly done. Your name will be on this. Don’t you want it to be be as good as you can make it? That means you must get back to work.
Why? Because good writing requires rewriting.
Plan to rewrite, and more than once. Your first draft will be horrible, terrible, very bad. And that’s okay. More than okay, actually: it’s expected. Why do so many writers think that all the words they put down must be brilliant?
There are times when it’s good to get it right in one take, such as when working in a blue book on a college exam, or writing inside a birthday card. But guess what? If you had the ability to rewriteon those occasions, you would almost certainly get it better the second time. And better still the third time.
This may not seem like good news for the budding novelist. You may be wondering: How many drafts, then? There’s no hard-and-fast for this, but it’s at least three for short works, and possibly more like 10 or 20 for long ones. If revising and rewriting are not something you enjoy, then perhaps writing book-length is not for you, because there are no one-draft writers.
But there is good news in this: there is no need for writer’s block (see Immutable Law #2). You can lower your standards, and just write that draft, allowing it by turns to be good or terrible. No worries; you’ll fix it later.
Revisit the other immutable laws:
Immutable Law #1: The words aren’t going to write themselves.
Immutable Law #2: An object in motion stays in motion (and an object at rest stays at rest).
Immutable Law #3: Writer’s block means you don’t know what to write about next.
A Short Guide for Exploring and Engaging the Themes and Motifs in Ron Padgett’s “How to Be Perfect”
1) Read “How to Be Perfect.”
2) Wonder about the poem’s title. What does the text of the poem convey about the poet’s notions of perfection?
3) In what ways or in what areas of life do you strive for perfection? Where do you come closest? Where do you fail completely—or, perhaps, have even quit trying?
4) Read the poem through several times (at least once aloud), then put the poem away.
5) Jot down the verses (the instructions) you remember in a journal or on a scrap piece of paper. No peeking at the poem!
6) Why might these particular verses have stayed with you? What do they say about who you are and the life you are living now?
7) Now, read through the poem again and notice the verses you didn’t remember. Do any of them surprise you or cause you to wonder why they didn’t stick with you? What do these omissions tell you about who you are and who you might want to become?
© 2016 Kathie Collins
A Short Guide for Exploring and Engaging the Themes and Motifs in Jelaluddin Rumi “The Guest House”
THE GUEST HOUSE
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
– Jelaluddin Rumi
Translation by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi, New Expanded Edition, 2004, HarperOne, p. 109
In this poem, Rumi uses an extended metaphor comparing our human lives and many moods and experiences to a house in which guests are constantly coming and going. Some of these guests merely pass through. Others stay for extended visits. Some are expected and welcome. Others are unbidden and/or disruptive.
1) After reading the poem several times, describe the you who might be both house and host to all these guests––the building itself and the ego or primary part of your personality that runs this mood motel. (Have fun with it!)
What kind of hotel are you? Four Seasons? Best Western? Residence Inn? Why? What’s the most important feature of the place?
Describe the you that runs this guest house? As hotelier, what expectations do you have for your employees and guests? What ground rules have you established?
2) What have you known of a crowd of sorrows who violently [swept] your house empty of its furniture? What did this crowd take? What did it leave behind? For what might it have cleaned you out? How did you treat it?
3) Describe your latest arrival. What joy, depression, or meanness knocks upon your door this morning? How will you greet it? What does it ask of you? What hospitality will you offer? With which of your other guest(s) might it room? For how long will you allow it to stay?
© 2016 Kathie Collins