draft, graft, drift, shrift: the redraft

don't sneezeI live in a flat that I share with an engineer and thirty computers.  I wish I was joking.  Not about the engineer – he’s fine.  He just can’t remember exactly how many machines are now whirring about behind doorways and purring from the dark of cupboards.  The entire flat feels like a mains-wired Rube Goldberg booby trap.  If I trip over a cable outside the bathroom, I fear for the lives of anyone cooking in the kitchen, unaware of the intricately-knitted network of processors and wires dominoing their way towards them.  Thar she blows!  (read: the fuse).

Nine of the computers can be used for writing.  I could switch location and screen resolution every day of the week if I really wanted to and still have some LED-lit leftovers.  Thankfully, I hear they’re all engaged in other, more venerable, tasks, tangled up with the engineer’s PhD; so I just stick to my one trusty computer to write my drafts on.

But when there are so many writing tools available (there’s a typewriter, even pens and paper kicking about the flat) it’s unsettling when we have to resort to strange tactics to redraft.

Redrafting is such a delicate process.  Trying to retain an image of the original structure while removing freshly cut snippets to the backburner, allowing a risky idea to simmer at the side and chopping up old ones until they fit together leaves me feeling a bit queasy.  And all the while trying to avoid tired analogies like town planning, childcare or cooking.  Oh.  I feel like I don’t have enough limbs or enough training to deal with the chip pan fire that breaks out when I lose sight of the story completely.

I hear there are resources available that can help writers arrange their thoughts, their Post-it marginalia, all that paratextual fluff that gathers up around the back of a draft.

Some friends heartily recommend Scrivener as a bit of software to help you lay all these bits and pieces out in a world of infinite rearrangement and regress.  Undo.  Undo.  Undo.

Then there’s the WillSelf™ file management system for the more tactile, kinaesthetic learners:

Famously, Will Self's office is plastered in Post-it pelf

For this, you just need to remember the layout of your room (a floor plan is good but only if you can see the floor) and the position of your chair (static, probably, after eight hours of redrafting) to recall facts written on scraps of paper, up to eighteen paper layers deep.  This method can work in reverse if you can remember where you left the note about gulper eels and know that you were reading about aphotic fish when you lost your house keys.  Three days ago.

Maybe it’s time to get out of the house when you realise you’ve shouted at your screen and taken print-outs of your burnt-up story into the kitchen.  But then, I hear it’s common practice to start cutting and pasting, quite literally, when MS Word just won’t do it properly.

I wanted to be able to see all twenty pages at once.  I wanted to hear the sound of these pages being cut up into sentence-long strips; that dry swish of the scissors.

I didn’t want to be distracted by the possibility of editing words, semi-colons, em-dashes.  Working with an open document on a computer, I am always too tempted to tune up the perfect chiasmus or dress up a phrase in awful alliterative twinsets.

Right now, I needed to change the narrative order – the story just wasn’t working.  I needed to drastically chop and change. I needed to be able to stand on the little bits of my story and shuffle them about in some re-enactment of a regency-era dance:

Opening sentence, you pair up with the dialogue and strip the willow with all these couples here.  That’s it.  Epilogue, bow to the character on your right and do a half turn.  Now skip for me.   

In the end, I was able to sellotape it back up and write it out from scratch, stopping here and there to indulge in a hyphen or two.  I hung the piecemeal parchment from the ceiling light, which, in a lo-fi, round-a-about wrangle, returned my story to its backlit roots.

I know some people upload their drafts to a Kindle, just to proof their work ‘in print’.  How many people have to dangle their work off a lampshade to achieve this printer’s perspective?

I’m hoping there are more, and more ridiculous, redraft routes out there.

Go on, share them with us.

Now that the story’s closer to be sorted, I can get back to fussing over commas and cussing over full-stops.

I can’t do much else as I’ve lost my house keys again.

  1. jo said:

    I was talking about these just yesterday with one of my advisors. She is thinking of writing an article about time-management/writing tools – as some sort of procrastination from her actual research…

    • hcc said:

      Aha! But are… are you suggesting that this blog post might have been a little bit procrastinatory? Oh no – found out again! 😉

  2. Fantastic blog post Holly, I love your writing style (not to mention your creative editing techniques!). Thanks for stopping by The Steady Table tonight, looking forward to seeing you again next week, or whenever you have need of a creative writing space.

    • hcc said:

      Thanks Rin – it was lovely to meet you this evening. I’ll be sure to head back when I am in need of a sturdy and steady table. By the looks of things this will probably be next week. My desk here can’t take much more of this tabletop, standup ‘editing’!

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