Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Black Art of Writing - It's Worse Than You Think

Some people don't do them.  Some don't know when to stop.  We're talking about the dreaded first draft that is never intended to see the light of day.  This is prose written in the darkness of creation, where gibbering voices whisper of changed plots and twisting characters with every stroke of the keys.  You can lose your way...and even lose your mind.  Stories are born in this wretched miasma and can also die in a slow slobbering scream.

I do first drafts.  Sealed away in my man cave, I plunge unerringly into the scabbed remains of old skeleton outlines, sifting through the remnants of what had been a living idea for something that still resembles life.  What is disgorged from my cold unreasoning machine is a vile concoction of thought without discipline.  An abandonment of prose as I throw the doors open to the yawning abyss of "what if".  This is truly a literary regurgitation in every aspect.  I watch as a character fades and crumbles in a paroxysm of weak motivations - and I do nothing to save them.  Plot arcs snap and crackle...horribly mutating what once had been pristine chapter outlines.  My creations come alive, change the world around them, and sometimes die again.  I laugh, and continue.  Always continue, never daring to look back at the thing heaped behind me.

Only at the end, when the quivering monstrosity has been spread out on my table, do I truly get to work.  Perhaps with knives.  Definitely with syringes brimming with the ichor of new realizations - thickening and congealing what lays there.  This is the second draft - hewing and hacking until a finite shape emerges from the chaos.  Bold, but not beautiful.  Arcs blazing along its being, tying in sub-plots in a rising crescendo toward a blazing finish.

I'm not done, however.  Oh no.  Next comes the paint...the music.  Lurching characters are brought to full potential in a bright world emerging from the shadows of what I have done.  Emotions burn bright and wings unfold in a glittering glory that sends the foul birthing into scattered holes of old memories.  There is nothing more glorious than this entity rising from so crude a birthing.  The third draft.

But I am a cruel writer.  The blades, the tiny scissors, the subtle bleeding.  Ah, but it is time to snip and cut.  To find the minor imperfections and cut them from the living tissue.  I do not keep this exquisite agony to myself - such pain must be shared with my peers who launch themselves at my creation like starving beasts to a lamb.  What staggers from the carnage is clean...pure...and deserving.

I submit this gift to my editor...and the agony begins anew.

Suffer for your craft, do we not?



January Bain said...

That sounds very painful, Kerry! But a necessary evil, eh...

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Kerry, you are one scary dude. But you are right.

Rhobin said...

Laughing with your prose, but seeings the heavy boulders of truth rolling over me.

Anonymous said...

I think if people aren't willing to back track and go down another path, they miss the opportunity to create a story that envelopes, inspires, and entertains. On each of my current 16 stories I have killed characters off only to bring them back, deleted chapters, created a new beginning, formed a different finality, and a dozen other re-directions. It is the nature of writers not to evolve the complete picture till its first drafted.

Heck even God keeps experimenting with his design. He goes down new paths, eliminates a species, adds another. If he has to revise, shouldn't we.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2011)

Jude Johnson said...

There's a saying that if you haven't bled, cried, or sweated during a day, you haven't lived fully. I think that could definitely apply to the craft of writing.

You are a cruel master, but the best ones usually are, Kerry. I'd like to see you at one of those Japanese Teppan grills... ;-)