Monday, April 30, 2018

Drafting: Seemingly Unrelated Drafts & False Starts

Black and white photo of Florence seen above from Fiesole.
I find endless photos on my phone taken by our almost five year old. He practices and practices until he finds the angle, light and composition that interests him. He was very happy about this one. 

I might sit down to write something new that's unrelated to anything I've written before. What fun to try something new! Those first words seem to glitter in the light. Sometimes, after some work, the results are strong. And sometimes, even after hours of writing, editing and revising, the result is, well, sh*t.

Of course, no writer, perhaps especially busy parent writers, wants to sit down with the goal of writing sh*t. We all wish to write something moving, beautiful and maybe even important to a reader somewhere eventually. But that can't happen in first drafts and it certainly can't happen all of the time.

For those failed attempts, the end result of having written only adds to your writing experience and strengthens your skills. Even if it doesn't feel like it at first, that's ok. (Enter deep breaths and logical thoughts.)

In a graduate writing workshop, Tom Lux would call "extra" writing in a poem the "on ramp." It might be that you needed to write something in order to get yourself to the necessary idea or writing. Eventually, that beginning part that got you there - the "on ramp" - can be deleted (perhaps with some pain on your part) from the final draft of the poem.

I think of failed drafts as "on ramps," too, because they helped you to literally practice writing. 

Like practicing a sport, you need to stretch and tone your muscles, focus your concentration and try new things in order to get back to the core actions of your sport. Maybe you are a runner and you try some yoga. Or you are a swimmer and you spend some time dancing. In the end, using your body differently will help you with your final, perhaps seemingly unrelated goal. 

Writing is the same. You need to keep writing and thinking. You might try writing in different genres or writing on different topics. You might try to tell your memoir in a children's book form in order to see the main ideas quickly and simply. Or you might need to write a resume for a job application and find yourself thinking about your life experiences that relate to a poem you want to write, but don't know how to start. You might decide to write about something upsetting and discover that you don't yet have the necessary emotional distance to tell the story well. 

I find that I have a lot of false starts that never lead anywhere. Sure, sometimes that feels like a waste of time and energy. I try to remind myself that the exercise of writing, thinking and working to craft words in a particular order helps me to be ready to write the next (perhaps even better) urgent thing.

So remember that you will have many false starts. You might write and edit full drafts that never end up published anywhere. You might write lines for pieces that never get written. This is all practice as you limber up your writing skill and hone your editing skills for other pieces. 

And who knows, some of those false starts that feel wrong today might eventually clear themselves up in your mind so that you can approach the subject or idea or key word better in the future. You might just surprise yourself and write something new and different that will have value to readers. 


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