My Dear Friend and I talked about the process of writing. She is an avid reader, but not a writer (yet). I told her I needed to remove some fat from my current WIP. She asked why I didn’t write everything in up front and take it out at the end.
How best to explain my process? I’ve considered posting about it so many times I couldn’t remember if I had. I still can’t, so forgive me if this sounds familiar.
I used to think of writing like quilting or sewing. Not that I quilt or sew, but what I imagine quilting and sewing to be like. Each chapter or scene is a quilting block. They’re colorful bits of prose held together by stitches of transitional sentences and when enough are stitched together, a story-picture emerges.
Except it isn’t like that at all. Not for me, anyway.
Long ago, a professional writer (forgive me, I can’t remember which one) told me to treat each chapter of a book like a short story. It should have a beginning, a middle and an end. It should have a climax and a plot complication. It should stand alone for the most part as a solid piece of writing. Like a quilting block.
Except a chapter cannot truly be a short story within a coherent novel. A chapter moves the greater story forward. It builds on what went before and lays groundwork for what comes after. A novel is like a tapestry of many colors woven together in a seemingly random manner until the final picture emerges.
The trouble with putting too much on the page up front – for me – is I risk tangling or losing threads when I cut. You cannot cut out part of a tapestry without ruining it. All the threads unravel. You can try to pull out a single thread, but you risk snagging up everything else.
Of course, the problem with this analogy is it leads to the idea that everything I put into a first draft is gold, which is patently untrue. It also runs the risk of impossible-to-meet expectations of myself while writing that first draft.
Fortunately for me and my writing style, I also tend to write “lean” first drafts and use the next two or three passes to add detail. That helps bypass much of the potential mess.
In the end, I hope the work stands on its own – intricate, cohesive and collectible. Only time will tell, I suppose.
In the meanwhile, I’ll weave away, one thread at a time, as quickly and carefully as I can.
How about you, writers? Quilters, weavers or something else?