Posts Tagged ‘editing a rough draft’

Learning from the Rough Draft

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

In my last posting, I wrote about the beauty of a complete rough draft, even a mediocre one. My advice to writers was that they forge ahead with a rough draft, no matter how shaky its start, because a finished rough draft can be a wellspring of good ideas.

The Writers Community blog recently explored a similar idea, recommending automatic writing to those with trouble getting started on a writing project. Sometimes maligned as a parlor trick or a Surrealist gimmick, automatic writing taps into a writer’s subconscious, bypassing the writer’s inner critic. The Writers Community posting recommends “put[ting] pen to paper without thinking about it at all,” which allows a writer to produce a completely uncensored piece of stream-of-consciousness writing.

Whichever way writers go about putting pen to paper—through some form of automatic writing or through the sheer will to produce a completed work—a finished rough draft should be the ultimate goal.

The following is the unedited opening paragraph of the first draft of a short story. The author completed the entire draft, but I have posted only this one paragraph. Following the paragraph is the same paragraph with my own thoughts and comments, in brackets, italicized and underlined. My comments illustrate the thought process of an author revising a rough draft and indicate the good ideas that can come of writing a draft straight through, from beginning to end, without stopping.

In writing the first draft, this author has ignored her inner critic, putting all fleeting thoughts to paper and rejecting nothing. In one place, the author has potentially rejected a sentence, indicating this rejection with a strikethrough. When writing a rough draft, using a strikethrough is a better idea than using the delete button or scribbling something out until it’s illegible. Upon revision, a rejected word or sentence can turn out to be the right one. Merely striking through it will keep it visible—and “accessible”—during the revision process. This rough draft author has also written several notes for later reflection, a habit I recommend (See each “NOTE TO SELF.”). Instead of stopping to revise in the middle of writing, the author makes a note to consider at the revision stage.

The original paragraph reads as follows.

Harold had become proficient at diagnosing his family and friends online. He knew all the websites that were useful for diagnosing people, and he knew what was wrong with everyone he knew. That was how Harold had decided to call off his wedding to Sophie. (NOTE TO SELF: Marie?) Harold had thought that he and Marie were an ideal couple, and he thought that he was really happy with her. Everyone told him that Sophie was ideally suited to him. But then, he discovered DiagnoseOthers.com and realized that Sophie (NOTE TO SELF: Sophie or Marie?) was either obsessive-compulsive or psychopathic—one or the other; he wasn’t sure: repetitive behavior—check (Marie had that. Didn’t she watch Nightmare on Elm Street over and over?); obsessive behavior—check (Marie had that, too. Wasn’t she always washing her hands with that expensive soap?); and wait a minute—Nightmare on Elm Street—she loved serial killers: psychopath—check. (NOTE TO SELF: Keep all of these sentences? Is this too many examples? Too over-the-top?) So Harold determined that Marie had some problems. His family was upset when they learned that he and Marie were through. But then, Harold looked them up and realized they had classic dissociative identity disorder. (NOTE TO SELF: Is dissociative identity disorder the right one for the family to have?) That explained everything.

The paragraph with my thoughts and comments is as follows.

Harold had become proficient at diagnosing his family and friends online. [This opening sentence works. The reader will wonder why Harold needs to diagnose others and whether his diagnoses will lead to some sort of trouble.] He knew all the websites that were useful for diagnosing people, and he knew what was wrong with everyone he knew. [“All the websites that were useful for diagnosing people” is needlessly wordy. Consider replacing it with, “the most useful diagnostic websites” or “the most useful psychological websites?” Consider cutting the second half of the sentence (beginning with “and he knew…”)? The first sentence already makes clear that Harold is diagnosing everyone he knows, so the idea in the second half of the sentence is superfluous.] That was how Harold had decided to call off his wedding to Marie. [To what does “that” refer? Consider changing the opening of the sentence to “Online diagnosis was what led Harold to call off…” “Marie” has won out over “Sophie” as the name of Harold’s former fiancée.] Harold had thought that he and Marie were an ideal couple, and he thought that he was really happy with her. [This sentence is, in fact, a good one and can go from “strikethrough” format back to “normal.”] Everyone told him that Marie was ideally suited to him. [This sentence is unnecessary.] But then, he discovered DiagnoseOthers.com and realized that Marie was either obsessive-compulsive or psychopathic—one or the other; he wasn’t sure: repetitive behavior—check (Marie had that. Didn’t she watch Nightmare on Elm Street over and over?); obsessive behavior—check (Marie had that, too. Wasn’t she always washing her hands with that expensive soap?); and wait a minute—Nightmare on Elm Street—she loved serial killers: psychopath—check. [These three sentences, which seemed over-the-top during the writing process, actually work here. However, for the sake of clarity, the punctuation may need work.] So Harold determined that Marie had some problems. [This sentence is unnecessary.] His family was upset when they learned that he and Marie were through. But then, Harold looked them up and realized they had classic dissociative identity disorder. [Dissociative identity disorder is not the right disorder for the family. Find another one that works for them.] That explained everything.

Please send me your thoughts and comments about this paragraph. I would love to hear from you.