I recently read a great post on the The Diaries of James Purcell blog, where he’d put up a picture of his bookshelves and mentioned how representative they were of his thinking process, saying “the haphazard way the shelfs are stacked with bits shoved into any odd gap is a perfect example of how I think, plan and access my thoughts when writing.”
This got me thinking, because I often use visual metaphors to explain my writing process. When I first started writing I saw myself as a sculptor, with the block of stone (or ice in the case above) representing the initial blank page. My first draft would be where I’d make the first cuts, to uncover the rough approximation of the shape of the story, but in a way that still needed plenty of work. Then, with ever more intricate tools I’d edit my manuscript down, smoothing the edges, teasing out the details, until I ended up with a polished piece of work.
However, my writing process has changed since I first started. Whereas the first draft of Second Chance fitted this analogy well, starting at 120,000 words before being edited down to 84,000, the word count on Absent Souls (and I expect Genesis Redux) started lower, went higher, before being refined back down again.
In this case, while I still see myself as a story sculptor, I now believe my process is more like creating a wire-frame clay sculpture. The frame is my outline – a series of small paragraphs, or even just a couple of lines of description, to convey what happens in every scene of the book. I then write my first draft, fleshing out this brief description, providing the bulk of the words but still being quite sparse in places (yes, even for me), with minimal description and scene setting. Once complete, I work on my second draft, adding in further detail where required and developing the areas where more detail is needed. This process allows me to play with the pacing of the book and fully explore and accentuate the themes that have arisen in the first draft. Further edits then trim and smooth prose until I reach the finished version.
So, what about you? What’s the image that best represents your writing process? I’m a great believer that we all have our own idiosyncrasies when it comes to how we write, so I’d love to understand what image best sums up yours.
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