11.01.2016

Dated Drafts

No author writes a masterpiece the first time around. There are just too many words to be improved. Many authors run four or five drafts or more as the characters and plot lines emerge from the shrouded recesses of the mind. Since the writing process takes place over a period of months, an early draft can easily be a few years old by the time you’re wrapping up the latest installment.

You think you can’t do anything with the old material. You review a scene and shake your head. The lead character isn’t like that anymore. The clue that the scene divulges doesn’t work in the revised plot scheme. The whole shebang, down to the chirpy prose that now seems positively antediluvian, seems to belong on sepia-toned paper, ready for the archive if anyone ever realizes your greatness.

That’s when you have to think in terms of a treasure hunt. You have to data-mine your dated draft. You know very well that, over the course of writing for so many days, you have come up with numerous bon mots or striking turns of phrase, crisp personifications or smile-inducing ironic comments. Sure, in some cases these nuggets really can’t be lifted out of their context, but you’d be surprised, with a little bit of fix-it, how many times they’ll slip seamlessly into a new draft.

Think in terms of the sheer volume of your words. Let’s say you have 80,000 words in the novel. You’re trying to make every sentence sing. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could grab a few hundred from material you’ve already written? Even if you didn’t know where the book was going back then, you still had flashes of brilliance. You need to pile up as many of them as you can.

As you’re reviewing an earlier draft, be pro-active. Don’t be lulled into enjoying the story. Keep your fingers on the copy and paste buttons. You don’t even have to decide right away where the smart bits have to go. You can place them on a list in a separate file. The right homes for them will come to you as you read your latest draft.

Exercise: The curated turns of phrase may not even make it into your present book. The list can be reviewed every time you write another novel. That’s because so many human experiences are common; what’s unique is your take on the event. The rain pelting down on the Boston Common will be just as stinging in Central Park.

“Uncommon thinkers reuse what common thinkers refuse.”
—J. R. D. Tata

Copyright @ 2016, John Paine



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