Friday, October 5, 2012

Drafts and Placeholders

Despite what others might think, I do not write in code.
I can read my scribbling quite well, thankyouverymuch.
(Most of the time.)
So, this is how I write.  Or, to be more specific, this is how I write when I'm revising.  The first stab at things is usually done on the computer; revisions to that text are done on print-outs and those sections added during revision are usually hand-written.

My wife claims even my trying-to-be-legible handwriting is indecipherable.  This, on the other hand, is a fine example of me scribbling quickly with the idea that no one else can easily read it.  Just as I don't show Draft Zeros to anyone, first runs of new paragraphs don't get shown to anyone either.

One of the big differences I've realized lately has to do with my general approach to writing.  When I've been writing for steady stream of days the words tend to come more easily and I am far less of a perfectionist when it comes to those words.

If I haven't written for a while, I choke on the words, feeling a strenuous need to Get Every Word Exactly Right.

And, yeah, that's a sure way to kill of creativity.

One of my favorite Far Side cartoons.
I reference it often.
Recently I've come to think of parts of my drafts as simple placeholders.  Much like my approach to a Draft Zero, a placeholder is a word or a sentence (or two or three) that serves to keep the writing moving along but doesn't need to be considered true draft material.  I'm a linear writer -- I need to write the book all the way through from start to finish.  Jumping in halfway to write That Fun Scene feels too much like cheating to me.  I need to have earned that scene by setting the stage for it with all of the writing that comes before it.  Otherwise, there can be these big gaps of logic that need to get backfilled and that can too easily seem forced.

Not every section/scene needs to be perfect before I move ahead, but I need to have a clear idea of where I'm going and how my characters are reacting before I do.

In these hand-written drafts, as well as with my revisions, I have been doing much the same thing with individual words.  When I hit a point in a sentence where The Right Word isn't in my head just yet, I'll scribble in a synonym and put angled brackets  That's my shorthand way of reminding myself that I need to fix that part of the sentence later on.  Sometimes entire sentences get angle bracketed.

Do you have any shorthand ways of making notes in your manuscripts?  Do you ever hand-write your prose or are you entirely word-processing your text?

-- Tom